What President Obama is -- and isn't -- campaigning on
President Obama's reelection campaign is starting up. The White House announced that the president is moving political advisers back to Chicago, and that he has chosen who will run his campaign. Then on Thursday, Vice President Biden sent millions of Obama fans a document encouragingly titled "Promises Kept," which advertises Obama's accomplishments so far -- at least according to a division of his political team.
The packet -- assembled at Organizing for America, an arm of the Democratic National Committee that emerged from Obama's 2008 campaign infrastructure -- lists economic recovery, health care, education, financial regulatory reform, tax cuts, repeal of don't ask, don't tell. And then there's the section called "Building a Clean-Energy Economy," which boasts about investments in green tech included in the stimulus and new emissions and fuel efficiency rules for cars and trucks. Curiously not mentioned, though, is the president's work to cut non-vehicle carbon emissions -- the core of the stopping the oceans from rising part of his campaign. Perhaps this is merely an implicit admission of a big promise not quite kept -- Obama prioritized health care and financial reform over passing a comprehensive energy bill last year.
Yet the president is beginning to use the regulatory power of the Environmental Protection Agency to curb greenhouse gases and other harmful emissions from American smokestacks. And because Obama hasn't been able to make good on that comprehensive energy bill promise, this approach may well become the centerpiece of his environmental policy. Why leave that out?
Organizing for America spokeswoman Lynda Tran says that there are many worthy details absent from the document, which was meant to be a handy summary of the last two years for OFA volunteers. Even so, it's notable that the president's political operation considers this historic move to regulate carbon less significant than the other items listed. Environmentalists sure don't. Neither do Republicans in Congress. GOP lawmakers have made stopping the EPA a top priority, and Obama's advisers are recommending that the president veto efforts to check his regulators' work. This is a serious fight about the administration's environmental policy.
The president might let lawmakers end EPA greenhouse regulation in return for cooperation on some kind of energy bill in Congress. Depending on the bill the president got, that might be worth it. But what happens if there's no deal and anti-EPA lawmakers attempt to defund the administration's work or formally strip the EPA of its regulatory power? Will Obama issue a high-profile veto? If the president's political team isn't jumping to advertise his support for this policy now, what happens when the issue becomes yet more visible? The Democratic Senate might prevent the president from having to make that choice. Or it might not.
As "Promises Kept" reminds us, carbon-cutting energy policy isn't an obvious political winner, particularly when it's the "command-and-control" regulatory approach available to the EPA. The potential for higher energy bills isn't appealing to voters, and the scheme, which could proceed without additional congressional action, is vulnerable to the "Obama government overreach" narrative. Global warming, meanwhile, is a long-term problem that's still largely hypothetical in the minds of many Americans. It's not all that surprising -- but perhaps it's a tad ominous -- that the president isn't exactly running on it.
| January 21, 2011; 6:19 PM ET
Categories: Stromberg | Tags: Stephen Stromberg
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