Prospects for establishment of a “climate resilience fund” as proposed by President Obama this week in his 2015 budget will depend heavily on how it is described on Capitol Hill.
“If this is tied to the magic words ‘climate change,’ you’ll see people start running back to their partisan corners,” said Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, a Democratic member of the Senate Climate Action Task Force. “But if we talk about making communities better prepared to deal with severe weather, there is an opportunity there to get bipartisan support.”
The fund would dole out grants and technical assistance to state and local governments to shore up infrastructure and increase adaptation to climate change.
It would also set aside federal dollars for climate research, including sea-level rise analysis, and disaster relief. The Federal Emergency Management Agency would be given $400 million for “hazard-mitigation and preparedness-assistance efforts,” according to a White House blog post.
Federal funding to advance climate science will be a hard sell with conservatives. But Democrats are hopeful that resilience planning and emergency response could win support on both sides of the aisle.
“Democrats and Republicans recognize the realities of extreme weather and acknowledge that we need to do something to better protect our communities,” said Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. “I think there is a way to make progress here without putting a spotlight on climate change.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska took a similar line. “If you’re talking about something as large and encompassing and yet so amorphous as climate change, how are you going to get folks to sign onto that with a billion dollars?” the Republican said. “If you were to figure out a way to deal with funding for disaster relief, on the other hand — whether for fires, floods, hurricanes, or what have you — then I think we could have a more honest and considered discussion about it.”
Sen. John McCain indicated he would be open to reviewing proposals to assist communities impacted by extreme weather. “If some of the fund would help people recover from a disaster, then that’s an attractive proposal,” he said.
But even if lawmakers agree on measures to provide relief and make towns and cities better able to withstand natural disasters, there’s still the thorny question of funding. “I’d have to look it over and see how it’s paid for,” McCain added. “I’d need to know where the money is coming from before knowing whether I could support it.”
Sen. James Risch, an Idaho Republican, called efforts to boost resilience “as nebulous an idea as I’ve heard in a long time.”
When asked about emergency relief, he said: “That’s a whole different ballgame. When you talk about disaster relief we know what we’re talking about. But the devil’s always in the details with something like that.”
So what are the details?
The White House listed the fund in its budget under a heading that could also be a heavy lift: a $56 billion Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative. The initiative, according to the budget request, would be fully funded through offsets, including cuts to federal crop-insurance subsidies and tax benefits for multimillion-dollar retirement savings accounts. It would also be funded, in part, by preventing individuals from drawing checks for disability and unemployment benefits at the same time.
The idea of paring back the social safety net might appeal to conservatives. But broad agreement between Democrats and Republicans on funding will likely prove elusive.
“With the budget constraints we’re facing right now and all the other competing priorities, I think you’d have a really tough time trying to get anything to do with resilience funded right now,” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, said.
Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming cast doubt on the idea that the plan will be approved, piecemeal or otherwise. “If there is a vote it’s going to be up or down on the entire proposal,” Barrasso said. “And I’m going to vote against the president’s budget.”
What We're Following See More »
"The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identified on Friday the makes and models of 12 million cars and motorcycles that have been recalled because of defective air bag inflators made by Japanese supplier Takata. The action includes 4.3 million Chryslers; 4.5 million Hondas; 1.6 million Toyotas; 731,000 Mazdas; 402,000 Nissans; 383,000 Subarus; 38,000 Mitsubishis; and 2,800 Ferraris. ... Analysts have said it could take years for all of the air bags to be replaced. Some have questioned whether Takata can survive the latest blow."
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says 41 Secret Service agents have been disciplined in the fallout of an investigation over the agency's leak of personnel files. The leaker, who has resigned, released records showing that Oversight and Government Reform Chair Jason Chaffetz—who was leading an investigation of Secret Service security lapses—had applied for a job at the agency years before. The punishments include reprimands and suspension without pay. "Like many others I was appalled by the episode reflected in the Inspector General’s report, which brought real discredit to the Secret Service," said Johnson.
Mitt Romney spoke in an interview with the Wall Street Journal about his decision to challenge Donald Trump. “Friends warned me, ‘Don’t speak out, stay out of the fray,’ because criticizing Mr. Trump will only help him by giving him someone else to attack. They were right. I became his next target, and the incoming attacks have been constant and brutal.” Still, "I wanted my grandkids to see that I simply couldn’t ignore what Mr. Trump was saying and doing, which revealed a character and temperament unfit for the leader of the free world.”
"A bill to help Puerto Rico handle its $70 billion debt crisis is facing an uncertain future in the Senate. No Senate Democrats have endorsed a bill backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, while some are actively fighting it. ... On the Republican side, senators say they’re hopeful to pass a bill but don’t know if they can support the current legislation — which is expected to win House approval given its backing from leaders in that chamber."
"Congress abandoned the Capitol Thursday for an almost two-week break without addressing how to combat Zika, even as public health officials issue dire warnings about the spread of the mosquito-driven virus with summer approaching. ... Instead of racing to fund efforts to thwart a potential health crisis, lawmakers are treating the Zika debate like regular legislation, approving Thursday the establishment of a House-Senate committee to hammer out differences in their competing bills."