Massively Unpopular House Republicans Reject HSR Funding
In a move that should surprise nobody, Republicans in the US House of Representatives voted to kill high speed rail funding. According to some reporters, this should be seen as a permanent problem for the California high speed rail project. Here’s Carolyn Lochhead in the San Francisco Chronicle:
No surprise: the House has just passed a spending bill that kills high speed rail funding for fiscal year 2012. The Senate is expected to follow suit. That means California should not expect the billions of dollars in federal aid on which its futuristic plan for bullet trains depends.
It isn’t a surprise – but that final sentence isn’t true. All this vote means is that between now and January 2013 we should not expect more federal HSR funding. Few if any HSR supporters had any such delusions. We know that Congressional Republicans have an irrational, ideological hatred of passenger rail, driven in part by big donors like the Koch Brothers.
This would only be a lasting problem for California HSR if we had reason to believe that Republicans would be in control of one or both houses of Congress for some time to come. But there is plenty of reason to believe they won’t be.
The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein has a great chart given to him by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) showing how unpopular Congress is right now:
Ouch. Less popular than the US going communist, barely more popular than Fidel Castro.
The likely result of this unpopularity is a return to power of Democrats in the House, judging by the polls. If that happened, San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi would become Speaker of the House again. And here’s what her office had to say on the subject, as quoted in the Chronicle article:
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat who envisions the city’s TransBay Terminal as the “Grand Central of the West,” said the updated plan by the rail authority “clearly explained the cost of inaction is far greater than the price to build a 21st century high-speed rail system. While it is regrettable that Republicans continue their attacks against high-speed rail funding, Leader Pelosi stands firm with President Obama in our steadfast commitment to achieving modern high-speed rail for California and the nation.”
In other words, if Pelosi becomes Speaker again in 2013, then federal HSR funding becomes likely again. Given the polls, that’s a pretty good possibility.
So it’s premature at best to claim that today’s House GOP vote is a death knell for federal funding for the California HSR project. It doesn’t help, but it is probably best seen as a temper tantrum of a group of radical extremists who temporarily seized control of the House in the 2010 elections and who will be promptly shown the door one year from now.
Of course, Democrats have to maintain their hold on the Senate and the White House. President Obama’s re-election will be a difficult battle indeed. But if he is re-elected, and Democrats have majorities in both houses of Congress as seems likely, then votes like these will be seen as nuisances, and not as portents of doom.
It would be nice if the media reported that every once in a while.