That Washington

Candidates Avoid Talking Transportation in Advance of Iowa Caucuses

By Erica C. Barnett January 3, 2012

Politico reports today that the Republican presidential hopefuls have stayed mostly silent on where they stand on transportation funding in the runup to the Iowa caucuses---a marked distinction from Democratic President Obama, who has made infrastructure (specifically, repairing roads and bridges and building high-speed rail) a centerpiece of his economic recovery plan.

Only Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) even mentions transportation in his platform, Politico reports, "proposing to privatize the FAA, abolish TSA and halve the Department of Transportation’s budget. DOT should consider itself lucky it’s not one of the five departments Paul would eliminate as president."

One possible reason for the GOP candidates' silence on transportation funding? "Funding" means spending, and the Republican candidates are all about cuts.

Another, more likely reason: Most of the Republican candidates were for Obama-style infrastructure programs, including high-speed rail, before they were against them. Indeed, until Obama came out for new federal rail investments, Romney, Gingrich, Paul, Perry, and Santorum have either voted for or expressed support for federal rail subsidies.

As the NYT reports:
Before the politics of rail was scrambled in recent years, Republican support for high-speed rail was not unusual. As recently as 2004, the Republican Party platform stated that “Republicans support, where economically viable, the development of a high-speed passenger railroad system as an instrument of economic development and enhanced mobility.”

But the politics of rail changed considerably after Mr. Obama persuaded Democrats in Congress to include $8 billion for passenger rail and high-speed rail in his $787 billion stimulus plan.

... At which point rail became anathema.
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