Hints at broad interest in nation-building at home
Last night, President Barack Obama addressed the nation in a pseudo-State of the Union address in front of a joint session of Congress, with the Supreme Court and the Cabinet in attendance. His comments, meant to encourage the nation in this period of collective doldrums, were focused on energy, health care, and education, with a small element at the end focused on foreign affairs. In his 52-minute speech, he didn’t address how transportation is an integral element of the energy problem, but he did mention public transportation when talking about the stimulus bill:
“Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs. More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector – jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.”
That said, he did suggest that it was time for a new era of national planning:
“In the next few days, I will submit a budget to Congress. So often, we have come to view these documents as simply numbers on a page or laundry lists of programs. I see this document differently. I see it as a vision for America – as a blueprint for our future….
“History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.”
There was no mention of high-speed rail here, but the overall impression is that he’s suggesting we need a national infrastructure project. The obvious candidate for such an investment is a fast railway network. We’ll see whether Mr. Obama replicates the advocacy he demonstrated for the mode in the stimulus in future spending bills.
That said, in his lackluster GOP response, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal didn’t have a problem mentioning high-speed rail:
“But Democratic leaders in Congress rejected this approach. Instead of trusting us to make wise decisions with our own money, they passed the largest government spending bill in history – with a price tag of more than $1 trillion with interest. While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes $300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a ‘magnetic levitation’ line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called ‘volcano monitoring.’ Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, DC.”
I’ve pointed out in the past that this Republican line of thinking is not simply political spin on an issue… it is a lie. The bill includes no specific earmarks for a Las Vegas maglev line. While it is possible that the corridor will get some funding, it will be waiting in line along with other far more advanced projects in California, the Midwest, and the Southeast. Mr. Jindal’s line is embarrassing and repeats the Republican mistake of assuming that if a lie is repeated enough, it becomes true in the minds of the American people.
I think we’ll be seeing four more years of mindless Republican opposition to sensible transportation investments.