Monday, March 14, 2011

Congressional Democrats begin to panic about losing high-speed rail

"the clear economic benefits of high-speed rail"
"the value of these investments"
These are the words of a new caucus being formed in Congress by a number of Democratic Senators and Congressmen, out to defend the federal HSR funding -- $53 billions worth -- that will become targeted earmarks for appropriate states and congressional districts.  How these "investments" will pay a return is not explained by anyone except in vague and grandiose terms such as zillions of jobs created, the economy enhanced, environment, fuel, congestion, etc. etc.

And, what the economic "advantages" and "benefits" will be is also very unclear.  But, never mind.  This is not a rational program, it's a political one in which appearances mean everything and substance is irrelevant.  Why are these lawmakers doing this?  Because they are panicked.  

Note that it's not the "High-Speed Rail Caucus."  It's the High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Caucus. What's that about?  Well, it gets them off the high-speed rail only hook, since only two states were intended to have genuine high-speed rail, over 175 mph. And one of them dropped out; Florida.  So, this Eastern and Mid-Western group of legislators is not about to have all this funding go to high-speed rail California alone.

So, how do you get to spread that money around?  By sweeping all of Amtrak passenger rail into the definition of this caucus' responsibility, including passenger service under 125 mph.  "Fast" is good enough, since it's not really so much a high-speed rail program anyway.  It's an earmark transfer of federal funds to the "lucky" states.  

I can see Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York involved here since they are part of the NEC, but why Minnesota, Arkansas or North Carolina?  What's in it for them?  

No Republicans?  Obviously, even if bi-cameral, this caucus certainly isn't bi-partisan.

So, will this caucus be meeting regularly?  What will be their agenda?  What will be their strategy? Do you suppose that their respective staff will do some homework and discover that HSR is actually a very bad investment, and that there are far more costs and debts than economic benefits involved?  I doubt it.  I also wonder if they realize that preaching to their own choir won't change the minds of the adamant House Republicans. 

Lawmakers to launch passenger rail caucus
By Keith Laing - 03/14/11 03:41 PM ET

Seeking to defend President Obama’s high-speed rail initiative from conservative criticisms, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and several House members plan to announce the creation of a bicameral rail caucus. 

Dubbed the “Congressional Bicameral High-Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail Caucus,” the group is to consist of Democrats from states that were included in Obama’s vision to create a nationwide network of railways that rivals the interstate highway system. 

Lautenberg and Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), John Oliver (D-Mass.), Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), David Price (D-N.C.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.) will jointly chair the caucus, which will be unveiled at a press conference Tuesday at Union Station. 

Amtrak vice president for high-speed rail Al Engel, North Carolina Transportation Secretary Gene Conti and Little Rock, Ark., Mayor Patrick Henry Hays will also attend. 

“High-speed rail is a major initiative of the Obama Administration with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Vice President Joe Biden as two of its most vocal cheerleaders,” the nascent caucus said in a statement Monday. “Despite the clear economic advantages to enhanced passenger rail transportation, funding for this vital investment is under attack from Republican slash and burn funding strategies.

“The founding co-chairs will join together to explain the clear economic benefits of high-speed rail and the value of these investments to their benefits of high-speed rail and the value of these investments to their respective corridors and to America’s well being,” the statement concluded.