House Democrats Begin to Push Back on Draconian GOP Spending Cuts

Hasn’t it felt lately like Capitol Hill is in some kind of bizarre vortex?

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, is one of four signers of a letter speaking out against "disastrous" spending cuts. Photo: ##http://www.lasentinel.net/CBC-Chairman-%E2%80%93-elect-Rep.-Emanuel-Cleaver.html##LA Sentinel##

On one hand, everyone acknowledges the November election was all about “jobs, jobs, jobs.” And President Obama is pushing for some serious government investment in passenger rail and other infrastructure projects to create jobs and build the foundation for economic growth.

And on the other hand, Republicans are single-mindedly focused on cutting spending, even where thousands of jobs depend on government funding. And Democrats have been going along with the deficit-reduction mantra.

Now four Democrats are standing up to expose the contradiction and push for infrastructure spending. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), James Moran (D-VA), Albio Sires (D-NJ) and Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) sent a Dear Colleague letter to the rest of the House on Monday, asking lawmakers to resist GOP pressure to cut recklessly.

They point to the damage that could be caused by the Republican Study Committee’s proposal to bring spending levels back to 2008 levels by cutting everything from USAID to Amtrak to public media. The four lawmakers call the plan “a recipe for economic disaster.” They focus on the proposed cuts to Amtrak and the New Starts transit program, saying:

Our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling and Americans are hungry for work. During a time of record deficits, it’s more important than ever to invest wisely and spend money efficiently. The current Republican proposals not only fail to do that, they strip away important resources that keep our nation moving and keep people employed.

These days, many advocates are trying to re-frame their message to appeal to the new Republican class, and in their way, these four lawmakers are no different. Rather than focus on the densely urban Northeast Corridor, they call attention to the potential harm the cuts would cause to rural areas.

There are many small towns across the country that depend on Amtrak to bring tourists and business into the town, and to provide an easy link to more populated areas. Cutting Amtrak service means leaving many of these small towns stranded.

In an email, Rep. Blumenauer told Streetsblog that he’s pleased that the President has proposed $53 billion more for high-speed rail, and that the Republican proposal goes in the wrong direction:

We’re sending a message: now is the wrong time for infrastructure cuts. Spending on bridges, railways and roads that people use every day is one of the most cost effective ways to create jobs in this country. Cutting back our investments in infrastructure that provides the foundation for our economic prosperity will undermine the recovery.

The four members who signed the letter are well positioned to have an impact. Though all are members of the minority party, which severely limits the impact they can have, together they hold positions on the Budget, Appropriations, Transportation and Financial Services Committees.

Those committees – especially the first three – are right now in the process of defining future spending levels. As members of those committees, these four Democrats can raise their voices against starving critical programs. But will anyone listen?

  • Press to Digitate

    Amtrak is a conceptual and operating disaster. The only way to save intercity passenger rail in the United States is to scrap the obsolete government railroad, and make its rights-of-way, track and stations available to multiple new independent operators, better able to compete for passenger and freight traffic.

    Why are Passengers and Freight run on separate trains these days? Only because of bureaucratic regulations and union contracts. Why are Amtrak trains still running with 1950s technology and 1980s rolling stock? Only because its been a government subsidized mess with no reason whatsoever to innovate, upgrade, or improve.

    Today, trains can be built from Carbon Composite instead of steel, weigh a quarter as much, and take drastically less fuel (and Carbon emissions) to operate. Their composite structure can actually be built from Carbon captured from atmospheric CO2, instead of pollution-intensive, coal-fired steel. They can run on biodiesel, clean natural gas (or, better yet, waste-derived Syngas) instead of petroleum diesel, and can carry solar roofs over solar trackbeds. No amount of union featherbedding will ever bring these innovations about, only competition can do that; and, without such innovation, Rail is an obsolete and dying industry, doomed to economic failure – as Amtrak and Conrail have amply demonstrated.

    Nobody is lamenting an “infrastructure crisis” in cellphone towers, fiber optic, or satellite communications, because the technology keeps improving to lower costs, introduce new capability, and thereby stimulate further demand.
    The same can happen with Rail, once we get obsolete – and, yes, “socialist” – bureaucracies like Amtrak out of the way. Treat the tracks like interstate highways, and open them up to anyone with a locomotive; relieved of that cost component, numerous business models make railroads competitive again, and billions of dollars in private capital will be drawn in, to make national high speed rail a *sustainable* reality.

  • Steven

    The problem is, outside of the Northeast Corridor, AMTRAK doesn’t own (except for a few limited exceptions) ANY track or rights of way. AMTRAK pays to runs their trains on the freight railroads tracks, with freight trains given total priority over passenger trains. So how does AMTRAK make track or rights of way it doesn’t even own available to other independent operators?

    And actually, it is widely acknowledged around the world that the US has the most efficient FREIGHT rail system in the world. US PASSENGER rail, on the other hand, is nothing to brag about (to put it mildly).

    The only way your proposal would work is if the Government nationalized the private freight operators tracks. And we all know how likely that is.

  • Nothing Is Stopping You Digitate

    “Treat the tracks like interstate highways, and open them up to anyone with a locomotive; relieved of that cost component, numerous business models make railroads competitive again, and billions of dollars in private capital will be drawn in, to make national high speed rail a *sustainable* reality.”

    Guess what?

    Those tracks are owned by private railroads, except for the Northeast Corridor. If you wanted to operate a locomotive on them, the government isn’t standing in the way, just talk to Union Pacific and Burlington Northern.

    As for attaching passenger cars to freight rail, the speed of travel would be very low and unattractive to passengers anyway, plus freight trains do not operate on daily schedules: it is more profitable to run them as they fill up.

    “Big bad government” isn’t the problem and isn’t holding progress back.

    Underinvestment in passenger rail, whether public or private, is the cause.

  • norm

    Press to Digitate, with all due respect, how old are you? Do you remember, say, 1970? Seriously, don’t you realize that the only reason Amtrak exists is because “multiple independent operators” – the incredibly successful, profitable, and government-subsidized railroads – refused to carry passengers any more. What on earth (aside from ideology) makes you think that they can do better when they refused to even try, before?

    Fact is, all transportation modes – in particular, roads – are heavily subsidized by the taxpayers – in part because it’s cheaper to do so than to have for-profit organizations do it.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Why Deficit Politics Matter in the Infrastructure Debate

|
Infrastructure will be on the menu tomorrow when the White House hosts a "jobs summit" aimed at assuaging public concern over mounting unemployment. Labor leaders have vowed to push for new transport projects, and invitee Paul Krugman is already on record backing a Wall Street transaction tax that some House Democrats want to see benefit […]

GOP Moves Ahead With Deep Cuts to Transportation, Housing

|
The House Appropriations Committee voted last night to move ahead with deep spending cuts, totaling $32 billion, to the remainder of the FY2011 budget. It’s still not the $100 billion the GOP wanted to cut, and some committee Republicans voted no, saying the cuts were still too small. Tell that to Americorps volunteers, who will […]

Obama: “I Will Veto Any Bill” Without Tax Increases on the Wealthy

|
In a Rose Garden speech this morning, President Obama soundly rejected Republicans’ push to address the deficit exclusively through spending cuts with no tax increases. He was responding to House Speaker John Boehner, who said last week that tax increases were “off the table.” The outcome of the current deficit-cutting fight could have significant implications […]

President Obama to Embrace Deficit Commission Plan Tomorrow

|
Four months ago – just days after the Democrats’ “shellacking” at the polls – a bipartisan commission offered President Obama the chance to retake the budgetary high ground from Republicans, who had positioned themselves as the party of fiscal sanity. The blue-ribbon deficit commission – led by Erskine Bowles, President Bill Clinton’s budget negotiator, and former […]