President Obama announced on Friday that he wants Congress to authorize $1 billion in new spending on the fight against climate change.
During a speech at one of California’s drought-stricken farms, the president said that his 2014 budget would include the funds to pay for “new technologies to help communities prepare for a changing climate [and] set up incentives to build smarter, more resilient infrastructure.”
“We know that we can innovate and meet this challenge, but we’ve got to start now,” he said. “We can’t wait.”
Further details will have to wait until Obama officially unveils his proposed budget in March, but the Republican-controlled House seems unlikely to authorize $1 billion for environmental sustainability efforts. Obama, who has said that climate change is at the top of his second-term agenda, may be proposing the idea now in the hopes that it will mobilize the Democratic base ahead of the 2014 midterm elections.
A similar dynamic is currently playing out with the president’s proposed minimum wage hike: While Republicans in Congress remain largely opposed to raising the legal base wage, Democrats have made a major campaign issue out of the proposal. Even red-state Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is running against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, has been emphasizing the minimum wage in her public remarks.
As to whether climate change mitigation could act as a similarly effective wedge, the latest polling offers mixed signals. A January USA Today poll, for example, found that a majority of Americans believe climate change to be a “very serious” problem. However, the same poll showed waning support for environmental regulation.
In the short term, the likeliest avenue for climate change policy flows through the executive branch. Obama’s administration has broad regulatory authority through agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, and the president’s recent decision to retain former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta as an adviser suggests that he might soon be making greater use of that authority. Podesta, who was also president of the liberal Center for American Progress, is responsible for a 2010 policy paper that lays out how to mitigate climate change through executive action.