BUDGET:

Obama lays out 'road map' to achieving climate, energy goals

President Obama unveiled ambitious plans today for funneling cash to his climate and energy priorities while raising funds through an overhaul of the tax code in his broader fiscal 2015 budget request.

Central to the White House's $3.9 trillion budget request are efforts to boost investment in energy and transportation infrastructure and climate adaptation programs, building off themes Obama announced in his recent State of the Union speech.

"It's a road map for creating jobs with good wages and expanding opportunities for all Americans. And at a time when our deficit has been cut in half, it allows us to meet our obligations to future generations without leaving them a mountain of debt," Obama said this morning at Powell Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

Obama's spending plans were constrained under the budget deal reached late last year. That two-year agreement allowed for $1.012 trillion for domestic and defense discretionary spending in fiscal 2014, with a slight boost to $1.014 trillion for fiscal 2015.

But Obama also announced plans for an additional paid-for $56 billion "Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative" to boost the administration's defense and non-defense priorities. Those plans will be paid for with a "balanced package of tax loophole closers and spending reforms," the White House said.

His plans were immediately panned by House Republicans.

"After years of fiscal and economic mismanagement, the president has offered perhaps his most irresponsible budget yet," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. "Despite signing last year's bipartisan budget deal -- and touting it as an accomplishment -- the president now proposes violating that agreement with a spending surge. What's more, he proposes raising even more taxes -- not to reduce the deficit but to spend more taxpayer money."

Of course, the president's annual budget requests often go unheeded by Congress, and the upcoming midterm elections don't make this year's political climate any friendlier. Still, the annual request gives Congress a launching point and sends a message about the administration's priorities for next year.

The budget renews Obama's call for the repeal of $4 billion in annual subsidies to the oil industry, an oft-repeated request from the president that stands little chance of clearing Congress. The budget also calls for advancing the "all of the above" energy strategy through investment in natural gas production and the promotion of "cleaner-burning fossil fuel technology such as natural gas with carbon capture," the advancement of energy efficiency and making a renewable energy tax credit permanent (see related story).

Obama also called for beefed-up investments to study and adapt to climate change. The White House has requested a $1 billion "climate resilience fund" that would be spent on research into the effects of climate change, development of new technologies and climate-resilient infrastructure, and helping communities address the local effects of climate change.

The White House also asked for $302 billion for a four-year surface transportation reauthorization plan. That plan would repair existing infrastructure while making new investments in transit, intercity passenger rail and competitive grant programs while creating jobs, according to the budget outline. The cash for the investments would come from corporate tax reform, the White House said.

Wildland fire suppression efforts would see a boost under the White House plan, thanks to a proposal to create a dedicated funding source outside the discretionary funding caps for firefighting costs. The proposal recognizes that wildfires are growing larger and more costly as the West grapples with drought, its forests become thicker with wood and more homes are built along the edges of wildlands (Greenwire, Feb. 24).

The administration also wants to modernize permitting for major infrastructure projects by "cutting through red tape" and speeding up decisions on government reviews. And the president called for a National Parks Centennial Initiative to put youth, returning veterans and others to work restoring parks.

Obama also wants more funding for high-tech manufacturing hubs. The administration has launched four manufacturing innovation institutes, and this budget would provide additional funding in an effort to meet his goal of creating a national network of 45 in the next decade (Greenwire, Feb. 25).

A White House request to boost federal employee training won workers' backing today. The budget calls for restoring cuts "to help train, retain, and recruit a skilled and effective Federal workforce, targeting investments in employee training to common, but high-impact areas such as customer service or information technology."

American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox said Obama's proposed budget "puts shared prosperity ahead of crippling austerity by raising the minimum wage, investing in public infrastructure projects, closing tax loopholes that benefit millionaires and billionaires, and investing in federal programs that will create jobs and expand opportunity."

But Cox and others have decried the president's proposal for a 1 percent pay raise for federal workers as inadequate after a three-year pay freeze that ended this year (E&ENews PM, Feb. 24).

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