by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
President Obama made no mention of high-speed rail in his third State of the Union address Tuesday night, providing a sharp departure from previous years’ speeches in which when he vocally championed a nationwide network of railways.
Likely coloring the omission was the fact that Republicans largely put the brakes on Obama’s rail initiatives in 2011. The GOP-led House voted last year to eliminate all funding for high-speed rail projects in the 2012 federal budget, and Republican lawmakers pushed for most of the year to privatize the most popular Amtrak service.
With that as a backdrop, Obama said nothing about his vision for a network of railways Tuesday night. It was a far cry from when he suggested in the past it would rival the interstate highway system that was built under former President Dwight Eisenhower.
In his first State of the Union address in 2010, the then second-year president mentioned that his traditional appearance the day after his address to Congress would be in Tampa, Fla., to announce the state of Florida was receiving $2.4 billion of the $8 billion that was included in the 2009 economic stimulus package.
“Tomorrow, I’ll visit Tampa, Florida, where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act,” he said to applause in January 2010, when Democrats still controlled the House of Representatives.
“There are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help move our nation’s goods, services, and information,” Obama continued in his 2010 State of the Union address.
But later in the year the president delivered those remarks, Florida elected a new Republican governor. That new governor, Rick Scott, rejected the Obama administration’s rail money shortly after taking office in 2011.
Scott was one of three Republican governors elected in 2010 to reject rail money offered by the Obama administration. The other rejections came before the president took to the House to speak to lawmakers in 2011, but Obama still pushed the rail message again that year.
“Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail,” Obama said in his State of the Union address last year. “This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying — without the pat-down. As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already under way.”
Republicans in the House had other plans, however. The party spent a large part of 2011 pushing to privatize Amtrak routes in the national passenger rail service’s most profitable region, the Northeast.
On Tuesday, when Obama talked about improving the nation’s infrastructure, which is where he has in the past mentioned his high-speed rail plans, he stuck to energy, roads and bridges and the Internet.
“So much of America needs to be rebuilt,” he said. “We’ve got crumbling roads and bridges. A power grid that wastes too much energy. An incomplete high-speed broadband network that prevents a small business owner in rural America from selling her products all over the world.”