WASHINGTON — Homeowners could collect thousands of dollars in cash-for-caulkers rebates for renovating their homes with better insulation and energy-saving windows and doors under a new economic stimulus bill the House passed Thursday.

The Home Star bill, passed 246-161, would authorize $5.7 billion over two years for a program that supporters — mostly Democrats— said would have the added benefits of invigorating the slumping construction industry and making Earth a little cleaner.

 

"Home Star is that solid investment that's going to achieve that hat trick of energy savings for the homeowner, of moving toward a cleaner environment and of creating jobs here at home," said bill sponsor Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.

Republicans overwhelmingly opposed the bill, and they were able to attach a condition that it would be terminated if Democrats do not come up with a way to pay for it.

The measure has come to be dubbed cash for caulkers, a takeoff on the popular 2009 cash-for-clunkers initiative that rewarded people for replacing gas-guzzling vehicles with more fuel-efficient models.

The initiative is separate from an energy tax credit of up to $1,500 that was included in last year's economic stimulus act.

That credit for energy-efficiency improvements runs through Dec. 31.

Supporters estimate that 3 million households would make use of the new program, saving $9.2 billion in energy costs over a 10-year period. They said it would create 168,000 jobs, mainly in the recession-hit construction industry.

Republicans said the price tag was too high at a time of mounting federal debt.

In debate on the bill, Republicans questioned whether the government can run the rebate program fairly and effectively. They said a $4.7 billion weatherization program that was part of last year's economic stimulus act has been slow to provide grants to states.

Under Home Star, rebates or discounts would be provided to homeowners at the time of sale. The retailer or contractor then would submit documentation to a processing office, which would verify the information and forward the request to the Energy Department for payment.

With House passage, the bill moves to the Senate, where it most likely will be attached to the next jobs bill.