Let the games begin. House Republicans already are gearing up to pull money away from high-speed rail development, a cause near and dear to Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., has introduced a bill to rescind unobligated funds from the high-speed rail project that President Obama pushed in an economic stimulus package. (The irascible Sensenbrenner is probably offended by the recent scuffle between LaHood and Wisconsin Gov.-elect Scott Walker, when LaHood rebuffed Walker's attempts to use high-speed rail funding for other projects.) Ohio Gov.-elect John Kasich also has rejected federal money for high-speed rail.
The administration is showing no signs of backing down. LaHood announced last week that he was redirecting nearly $1.2 billion in high-speed rail funding to other states eager to develop high-speed rail corridors across the United States.
Other House members, like Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., want all unobligated stimulus funds returned to federal coffers, including the billions dedicated to high-speed rail. The question of unobligated funds is likely to dominate the House appropriations committee all year, which means it's time for rail enthusiasts to get their messaging ducks in a row.
No matter what happens, there will be a fight over the rail program that's going to suck up time and energy from policymakers. So let's start the debate here. Is investment in high-speed rail really an economic stimulus if it's going to take years to complete the system? With fiscal hawks swooping on Capitol Hill, wouldn't it make more sense to put some of that money to fund a long-term transportation bill? How much power should the administration or Congress have over how a state invests in its transportation system? Why is high-speed rail such an attractive idea? Is it just because it's cool?