New Republican Strategy: Shoot Selves in Foot

New Republican Strategy: Shoot Selves in Foot
Planned High Speed Rail Station in Wisconsin

It’s no secret that the Republicans hated the economic stimulus. They voiced opposition in all sorts of ways (mostly hysterical) to all sorts of projects (mostly beneficial) that would have brought money and employment to their states. They especially voiced opposition to high speed rail, while in February 2009, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the Democratically-controlled Congress allocated $8 billion to be granted to states for intercity rail projects, with “priority to projects that support the development of intercity high speed rail service.”.

Plan for High Speed Rail in U.S.

This isn’t a bad plan. I’ve driven from New York to Minneapolis before and it’s a long drive (some 20 hours from the vicinity of Binghamton Upstate). But ideologically, the Republicans couldn’t buy into it. Now they will reap what they sowed. Money that could have stimulated local economies will go elsewhere – where it’s wanted.

  • In Wisconsin, incoming Republican Governor Scott Walker vowed on Wednesday to fulfill a pledge he made during his campaign to kill a high-speed rail project that would have linked Milwaukee and Madison, which itself was to be part of a larger project which would have created a high-speed rail corridor across the upper Midwest, spanning the scenic but rather long (about 6 hour) drive between Minneapolis and Chicago (see map above). The clincher: the project was going to cost Wisconsin NOTHING. The entire $810 million price tag was being covered by federal stimulus funds. Wisconsin could only profit from the plan, putting thousands to work, not to mention helping the environment. But Walker is a Republican. He doesn’t care about the environment. He doesn’t care about putting Wisconsinites back to work. He says he wants to spend the money on roads instead, but there’s a catch: he can’t, because alternate use of the funds is prohibited. Ironically, the line was a proposal from the former Republican governor, Tommy Thompson, who for his temerity is now former-Wisconsin governor.
  • In Ohio, another new Republican governor, John Kasich, pledged to kill a $400 million stimulus-funded rail project. “Passenger rail is not in Ohio’s future.” Yes, because it’s so much fun to drive across Ohio. It’s marginally less exciting than Wisconsin. “That train is dead,” he announced.  He said it was the “dumbest idea” he had ever heard and that his state could not afford to operate it. He wanted to spend it on roads too. Guess what? That money goes back into federal coffers too, and Wisconsin and Ohio pay the price for electing Republicans to be governor.  If Ted Strickland, the Democrat, had been re-elected, we can imagine Ohio would have its high speed rail and an economic boost and the flowers and trees would have smiled.

These ideologically-motivated refusals are perhaps not such a bright idea when you stop to think about it. The problem being of course, that not many people stopped to do much thinking leading up to these midterms and Republicans seem to be doing less thinking than most. It all became about rage and ideology. Nobody was thinking in practical terms. So they all decided to have a group foot shoot instead.

Republicans say they are against earmarks but it is earmarks that have until now functioned as infrastructure funding. Obama tried to change that by allocating federal funds to various projects. It is difficult to imagine how Republicans plan to manage our infrastructure if they a) don’t want government spending and, b) don’t want earmarks.

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Now this is just a symptom of course, but it’s one that is likely to be played out across America in areas where Republicans remain or are newly dominant.  Fortunately, the governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, was wise enough not to turn down stimulus money for wind-farms. This might be why some people are talking about Daniels as possible presidential material. He may not be the best and brightest, but it isn’t difficult to look like Einstein next to the average Republican rocket scientist.

So in all likelihood, their loss will be our gain – sometimes our loss. Think about it. The New York Times reports that “Representative John Mica of Florida, the senior Republican in line to take the reins of the House Transportation Committee in January, is unhappy with the way the Obama administration awarded $10 billion in federal stimulus funds for high-speed rail projects.”

Mr. Mica figured these were trains to “nowhere,” a sentiment that will no doubt do much to endear him to the citizens of places like Milwaukee and Chicago, not to mention the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul).

Guess where Mr. Mica wants to spend the money? Yeah, not in your neighborhood. No, he wants to spend it in the Northeast corridor, “which he described as possibly the only place in the country with enough population density to financially support high-speed train service.”

Europe has lots of high speed rail:

High Speed Rail in Europe

The USA? Not so much:

High-speed rail in the United States currently consists of one rail line described by the US Department of Transportation as a high-speed line: Amtrak’s Acela Express service, which runs the Northeast Corridor—from Boston via New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, to Washington, D.C.—at speeds averaging 68 mph (109 km/h) for the entire distance but briefly reaching 150 mph (240 km/h) at times.

So yeah, the Northeast corridor is the only place in the U.S. with high speed rail, and now it’s going to get some more while others go without. No money and no jobs and no environmental boost for Wisconsin and Ohio, but the people in the Northeast corridor will benefit. This is the sort of short-sightedness we can expect for the next two years.

Folks will be able, in that time, to reflect on what this all means for them. One hopes that in those states which elected Republicans as governor the voters will come to the conclusion by 2012 that perhaps the Party of Raging No’s might not be the best choice. They will have to live with their mistake for awhile though since governors in all states save Vermont and New Hampshire serve four year terms. Meanwhile, the governors can enjoy their annual state of the state addresses explaining to those voters why they screwed them over.

My guess is that by 2012, not many voters will be reminiscing along the lines of “Yeah…good times…”

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