Romney Wins Iowa, Loses the Rail-Passenger Vote

Mitt Romney won Iowa by 8 votes a day after making a weak argument against federal funding of Amtrak. Photo: ##http://www.nypost.com/p/news/national/rick_mitt_xPFpUX65D2SCpsEgvEAgdN##Getty Images##

In a landslide (er, eight-vote) victory over former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum in the Iowa caucus last night, Mitt Romney solidified his lead over the rag-tag field of GOP nominees. He also took an opportunity, the day before the caucus, to make a tired old argument against public support of passenger rail service.

I gotta cap federal spending, and then I’ve got to balance the budget. Now how do you go about doing that?

[Brief heckling interlude]

My view is this: What you do to get our budget in line is you say this. You take all the programs the federal government has, and you say, “Which of these programs is so critical that we gotta have it?” And those things we keep.

But those programs that don’t pass the following test we gotta get rid of, and this is my test: Is this program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And on that basis we’ll get rid of some programs, even some we like.

[Takes an easy shot at “Obamacare”.]

And there’s some other things — look, Amtrak ought to stand on its own feet or its own wheels or whatever you’d say. And I like the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities but I’m not willing to borrow money from China to pay for it.

(Hat tip to Transportation Nation for breaking the story and providing the audio.)

In this brief moment, Romney staked out several positions that distinguish him from the rest of the pack. First, he acknowledged the existence of federal programs worth keeping — not something many Republicans want to do in these slash-and-burn days. And second, he actually mentioned transportation, which most of the field has completely ignored.

But Romney did echo the mainstream GOP attack on public rail subsidies, which help maintain money-losing lines (through conservative, Republican-voting, rural country) that the government mandates it to run as a public service. In so doing, Romney ignores Amtrak’s record ridership and the enormous success of its Northeast Corridor service, which reduces air pollution and traffic congestion along the country’s most heavily-traveled corridor. Meanwhile, we’re still waiting to hear any Republican candidate say roads ought to pay for themselves too. (Incentive: The first one who does gets a late Streetsie award for uncommon bravery.)

Though Romney’s win last night was anemic and potentially embarrassing, considering the fact that he nearly lost against someone who until very recently was destined for also-ran status, he’s positioned to clean up next week in New Hampshire and run a more consistent nationwide campaign than any of his opponents.

If this speech illustrates Romney’s true view on public transportation — that it has to pay for itself — advocates have a lot of work to do in educating him before he goes head-to-head with Obama for the White House.

  • Anonymous

    He doesn’t understand the midwest very well then. Without Amtrak, a lot of people would be unable to get to O Hare or Chicago Midway to take a plane somewhere. Plus gasoline is never going to get cheaper, but I guess billionaires like Romney don’t care about that. Hope he enjoys his “landslide!”

  • John Dough

    Smart politician. Amtrak is the low hanging fruit of boondoggle cutting. For every train rider that votes against him because of his position on Amtrak, there will be around 15,000 taxpayers that will vote for him.

  • Anonymous

    ” …say roads ought to pay for themselves too.”

    Ahem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3Tu8L7fV9g (Towards the end)

    Here we have a cyclist, pro rail, pro privatization of the interstate system, and he is completely overlooked by even Streetsblog. 

  • Thedudeandwalter

    Great the Ron Paul fanatics are here as well…So sick of them

  • In the face of declining energy supplies, electrically-powered rail will be the most efficient and economic mode of transport for people and goods. In fifteen years, regions that have a working rail network will be the ones that have an economy somewhat akin to what we experience today. The rest will see their standards of living drop substantially. (The exceptions will be regions that can move people and goods by boat, although as sea levels rise, most low-lying coastal areas will be lucky to survive at all.)

    So what does it mean that as a nation we can’t bring ourselves to invest in the infrastructure desperately needed for the predicament our children will shortly face?

    What it means is that we absolutely prioritize our current wealth and comfort over any suffering or difficulty future generations might endure as a result of our choices.

    (Perhaps the greatest failing of easy credit and the soaring consumption/live-for-today mentality it engendered is that it has rendered us not only unwilling to consider the consequences of our actions but even to consider the future at all. We have frittered away money, time, finite resources, and our environment with little beautiful or useful to show for it. We leave behind debt, pollution, junkyards of plastic and metal, extinct species, lowered water tables, infertile land, climate change, a declining empire, people around the world who aren’t fond of us, and the dregs of oil we couldn’t manage to consume.)

    No doubt our children, when they figure out their patrimony was squandered down a rathole of waste and profligacy, will at some point decide they actually want a county and an economy that works. Amidst decaying roads, abandoned McMansions suburbs, and airports no longer in use, they will likely hack the military down by two-thirds, default on the national debt, eliminate social security and medicare, and put the small amount of surplus they have towards rail. This will mean that anyone over forty now will live out their senior years (which may not last long) in poverty, but since this generation never cared much about their children, I’m not sure why the next generation should care about their parents.

  • Typical simplistic speech by a Republican candidate this year. It hits all the main points: “Obamacare,” Amtrak, China, and the other points coming out of the Ministry of Truth. The sad thing is people eat this stuff up. 

    I’ve got to give Paul a tiny bit of credit for at least discussing some new topics, though I’m sure those people who are cheering and hoping for a return to the gold standard have absolutely no idea how miserable life was when a severe recession hit every 5 years. 

  • Richard Mlynarik

    “Amtrak” and “useful and/or modern and/or efficient and/or attractive and/or effective passenger rail transportation” aren’t identical concepts.  “Antithetical” is closer to the mark.

  • John Dough

    Karen,

    Lighten up okay? It’s just a train. It’s not the end of the world.

  • Anonymous

    John,

    Actually proposing to cut Amtrak is a boondoggle effort to try and balance the budget. If anything, thinking that cutting Amtrak is going to do anything for the budget & the deficit would show that he’s not very smart.

    The proposed 2012 budget is $3.729 Trillion.  Amtrak at current funding levels represents less than 0.045% of that budget.  One would have about as much luck at putting out a forest fire by throwing a glass of water on it as they’ll have of fixing the budget & deficit by cutting Amtrak.

    In fact there are 4 major programs that represent 80% of all Federal spending.  Mr. Romney could cut the other 20% to zero, gutting all of those programs including Amtrak & the Arts and he still cannot balance the Federal budget without either a tax increase or cuts to those 4 major programs.

  • Rob Top

    Widening roads is a damn boondoggle.  All they do is incur more sprawl and garbage development.  Our nation is becoming a total joke. 

  • Anonymous

    Annual cost in 1993 (latest numbers available, what do you thin it is now?) to operate one carrier group: $1.5 Billion

    The cost to build the Gerald Ford Aircraft Carrier:  $11.2 Billion
    http://dailycaller.com/2010/05/03/time-to-sink-the-carriers/

    The cost to build all the ships that the Ford’s carrier group will consist of: $15-20 Billion

    http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/05/gates-takes-aim-at-navy-questions-carrier-fleet/

    Highest ever amount in funding (equipment and operations) Amtrak has received: $1.5 Billion in 2010

    http://www.narprail.org/cms/images/uploads/fund.pdf

    Total Amtrak budget since its creation in 1971:  Just under $40 Billion.

    Is having Amtrak is more important than having an 11th carrier group, Willard?

  • Don’t think he has to worry about a landslide now that he has grabbed the Social Security and Medicare killer as Veep.

  • When was the last time you rode a train… Acela makes money on the west coast… and while not a bullet train does make a profit and runs hundreds of thousands of folks up and down the northeast daily. The airlines would be completely overrun if not for it. As for the other lines… If republicans would get on board with fully funding our national railway rather than handing our money to bankers and military profiteers we could have coast to coast bullet trains and an awesome and far more useful train system. Freeways are ugly and will never be large enough.

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