Monday, January 31, 2011

HSR: It all depends on how you spin it

Having suggested, over and over, that the Republicans have made their hostility to high-speed rail clear, here is an article that has a different perspective on the same facts. We know that Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania has made affirmative statements about developing the Northeast corridor.  We also know that Rep. John Mica also approves of HSR in that corridor.  So, there's nothing new there.  

Indeed, I wonder if Michael O'Brien is making too much of this, regarding the Republicans.  Remember, there is a party strategy at work here, deficit reduction being a major component.  We also know that two Republican governors have rejected HSR funding for their state, realizing that it's really not "free" money.  It comes with too many strings attached. Gov. Scott of Florida is weighing his options also. 

Additionally, when the Republicans who ostensibly support HSR also say that they want private investments in these projects, and that they Administration ought to be more focused on where the too few funds are expended as pump primers, we have a rather different picture.  

There is a huge question hovering over the issue of private investment, and that is the availability of government guaranteed investment deals.  Not allowed in California.  Why has there been no pro-active investment movement from the financial quarter toward HSR so far?

And, because it has been the Democrats who have made the where-to-fund decisions, it is obvious that these have been political decisions.  Wouldn't the Republicans want to change that?

The point of investment opportunity is, of course, that HSR will generate surplus revenues or profits.  That, based on the rest of the world's experience with HSR, is extremely unlikely.  Two rail systems in the world are supposed to be breaking even.  I even doubt that, since all rail systems are under the caring wings of their host governments which make their operation possible.  There are various ways to subsidize an operation by governments, some more visible and on the books, than others.

Finally, the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, has made it clear that the goal of the Republicans over the next two years is to prevent President Obama from having a second term.  Republicans (except for the minority but noisy Tea Party) are well disciplined. Given that, why would Republicans on the Transportation Committee be willing to make Obama look good by supporting the White House's major initiatives and grand strategy for HSR?  That would appear implausible. Wouldn't you think that their purpose is to have this initiative fail?  And, why would they continue to support the expenditure of billions of tax dollars rather than work to decrease the deficit, that being their mantra?

Mr. O'Brien, your opening sentence in this article might lead us astray unless we stop and think for a moment about the entire political picture. So, thanks for that opportunity.


Republicans embrace Obama rail initiative

By Michael O'Brien - 01/29/11 02:00 PM ET

Key Republicans are embracing a major spending initiative outlined in President Obama's State of the Union address. 

Two top members of the House Transportation Committee said they will push the president's initiative seeking to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail over te course of the next 25 years. 

"I believe it's good for America to develop a high-speed rail corridor in the Northeast corridor," Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), the chairman of the railroad subcommittee, said according to the Connecticut Post. "It's a place we have to start, we have to accomplish it, because then I believe all of America, in the various corridors around the country, will want high-speed rail if they see success here."

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), the chairman of the whole committee, also said Friday he was "pleased that President Obama has helped to launch a system for improved passenger rail service for our nation."

The pair warned Obama to seek more private investments in the project, and encouraged the administration to be more focused in where it will deploy high-speed rail service. 

Still, the pair's support could enable cooperation between the Republican House and the Obama administration on one of the president's major initiatives. 

"Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail," Obama said in his address. "This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car."