by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
Democrats took to the floor of the House Thursday to sharply criticize a Republican proposal to eliminate stimulus funds for high-speed rail that have not been distributed yet.
The provision, which is included in the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, calls for the elimination of $2.3 billion in stimulus dollars, including $1.6 billion that was just announced in May.
Much of the leftover money was redirected to 15 states after Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) turned down $2.4 billion for a line that would have connected Tampa to Orlando.
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) called eliminating the funding “misguided.”
“It will eliminate thousands of jobs, will halt a large number of rail projects across the country and we are way behind every other nation, industrial nations anyway, and hurt local and station economies,” said Slaughter, who is a co-chairwoman of the Congressional Bicameral High-Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail Caucus formed earlier this year.
“This is the latest in the majority’s agenda that can best be described as penny-wise and pound-foolish,” she continued. “The high speed and intercity passenger rail program is critical to our country’s competitiveness. It puts Americans back to work, it revitalizes our construction and manufacturing sectors, boosts the domestic economy and helps in U.S. dependence on foreign oil.”
Other Democrats, including Reps. Jerry Nadler (N.Y.), Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.) and Laura Richardson (Calif.), joined Slaughter in her opposition to the proposed cuts to high-speed rail funding.
Republicans countered that the money should be used for relief efforts for Midwestern floods that ravaged the area earlier this year.
“We’re talking about more than one-third of the entire watershed of the United States of America,” Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) said. “Farmers, people who work for the farmers, hardware stores and implement dealers who have been devastated by flooding. We’re talking about billions of dollars of lost economic activity.”
Emerson said she had “great respects” for the Democrats’ arguments Thursday, “but at the end of the day, I think it’s critical that people’s lives and livelihoods must be protected.”
Slaughter argued that Congress should be able to do both.
“It is both unwise and infective to cut important funding for one project in order to pay for disaster relief,” she said. “We are a nation that should be able to both build for the future — in fact we must, and provide for our fellow citizens in need today.”
“The attempt to rescind this money is nothing but an opportunistic attempt to gain politically from a human tragedy,” Slaughter continued. “The flooding that has occurred in our nation’s heartland is being used as an excuse to eliminate an investment in our transportation network and our future. This is morally reprehensible and economically irresponsible.”