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