High Speed Rail Through Philly? Keep Dreaming

If you were watching MSNBC last night, you’d have thought VP Joe Biden’s hanging in 30th Street Station yesterday was the be all, end all of transportation history. The Obama Administration had a dream – that one day, little boys and girls would travel up and down the east coast at 250 mph. They’d commute to their jobs in distant cities, just like the French and Belgians. Newspapers the country over marched hand-in-hand, reporting Biden “touting” the plan in Philadelphia. And it’ll only take an extra $53 billion over six years!

Problem is, money and votes don’t just magically appear.

From the Huffington Post:

An initial $8 billion in spending will be part of the budget plan Obama is set to release Monday. If Congress approves the plan, the money would go toward developing or improving trains that travel up to 250 mph, and connecting existing rail lines to new projects. The White House wouldn’t say where the money for the rest of the program would come from, though it’s likely Obama would seek funding in future budgets or transportation bills.

It didn’t take long for House Republican leadership to release their own budget proposal (this morning), which includes more than $40 billion in cuts, including those to international food aid programs and the WIC nutrition program which assists pregnant women and infants. Not surprisingly, the high speed rail, if the Republicans have their way, won’t even be a blip on the radar.

Republican Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Shuster – the Railroads Subcommittee Chair – has already called the high-speed rail plan “insanity.” House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. John Mica has likened not just high-speed rail, but rail in general to Communism. Amtrak is a “Soviet-style train system, ” he said. That public-private venture which produces “snail speed trains to nowhere” has “hijacked” all this administration’s projects.

Before Biden’s announcement, which the president had already spoken of at his State of the Union in January, Republicans were intent on shutting this, and more projects, down. Remember when the talking point of the day was that Obama’s talk of “investment” was actually code for “more spending”? PA Senator Pat Toomey said it on several occasions, in between his op/eds about stopping Congress from raising the debt ceiling without defaulting. And if you missed that, look no further than the Republican Study Committee, a 175-member caucus of House Conservatives, recently announcing they want “to completely de-fund Amtrak and high-speed rail.” Republicans are actually trying to defund half-finished stimulus projects they voted against and then took credit for. You think they’re ready to hop on board a $50 billion socialist train?

Maybe the Administration has a secret plan to twist Republican arms and get them to blink on this issue, but it’s unlikely. Conservatives have the numerical upper hand in the House and even if it somehow passed, magically, 60 votes in the Senate to get this thing through? Keep dreaming.

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