Obama calls for compromise, touts clean energy as way to boost economy

Source: John McArdle, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, November 12, 2012

In his first White House speech since winning re-election, President Obama on Friday called on Congress to get to work on addressing the looming fiscal cliff and took some time to praise clean energy development as an important tool for growing the economy.

“At a time when our economy is still recovering from the Great Recession, our top priority has to be jobs and growth,” Obama said in his East Room address.

The president said that was the focus of the plan he pushed on the campaign trail.

“It’s a plan to make sure this country is a global leader in research and technology and clean energy, which will attract new companies and high-wage jobs to America,” he said. “It’s a plan to put folks back to work, including our veterans, rebuilding our roads and our bridges and other infrastructure. And it’s a plan to reduce our deficit in a balanced and responsible way.”

Obama used his speech today to set his expectations for the debate over the economy and federal deficit that is set to begin as soon as Congress returns to Washington next week.

The president expressed a willingness to compromise with congressional Republicans and listen to new ideas for finding solutions to the country’s fiscal challenges. But he also drew a line in the sand on the issue of tax increases for the wealthiest Americans.

“If we’re serious about reducing the deficit, we have to combine spending cuts with revenue. And that means asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more in taxes,” he said.

Claiming a mandate from voters this week, Obama made it clear that he considered the issue of tax increases on the wealthiest settled.

“It was debated over and over again. And on Tuesday night, we found out that the majority of Americans agree with my approach,” he said.

For those who still disagree with him on the issue, Obama added that his approach is not new.

“That’s how we can reduce the deficit while still making the investments we need to build a strong middle class and a strong economy. That’s the only way we can still afford to train our workers, or help our kids pay for college, or make sure that good jobs and clean energy or high-tech manufacturing don’t end up in countries like China.”

Environmental groups lauded Obama’s speech this afternoon.

“Any plan to reduce the deficit must include new revenues,” David Goldston, director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “The budget cannot be balanced by slashing programs that protect our air, water, lands and health — programs that already are being cut. It should step up our investments in job-creating, clean and renewable sources of energy — and end outdated public subsidies to the dirty fuels industry.”

Alan Rowsome, director of conservation funding for the Wilderness Society, said this afternoon that Congress should end an estimated $4 billion in federal subsidies for the oil and gas industry.

Doing so “could pay for the entire maintenance backlog of the National Wildlife Refuge System in a single year, with money left over,” Rowsome said. “The American people do not want a budget deal that closes national parks while keeping American taxpayers’ wallets open to the oil and gas industry.”

Obama said today that he has invited Republican congressional leaders to the White House next week to begin to discuss the economic challenges the country faces, but the two sides appear far apart heading into those negotiations.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has indicated a willingness to find new revenue by overhauling the tax code, but he said this week that he would oppose raising tax rates (E&E Daily, Nov. 8).

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) released a statement this afternoon dismissing the contention that there’s any consensus on raising taxes.

Raising taxes “would undermine the jobs and growth we all believe are important to our economy,” he said. “Now that the election is over, the American people expect a plan that reduces spending, reforms the entitlement system, and puts us on a path to ending our chronic annual deficits — without harming an already fragile economy.”