Over at Grist Ryan Avent looks at the politics of the stimulus and makes some interesting conclusions about what this could mean for projects like high speed rail:
Think all news is bad news during this epic recession of ours? Think again -- over the past three months, real wages have increased 23 percent, an enormous gain. At a crucial period for many working families, paychecks are going a lot farther than they did back in the summer.
The explanation is simple: wages are flat, prices are down. The labor market operates on a bit of a lag, so while the recession affected oil demand and prices very quickly, layoffs and falling wages are emerging more slowly. Eventually, the weak economy will catch up to workers (those who still have jobs), and spending power will decline.
But this is important to remember given the trends of the past decade. When economies are growing, oil prices rise. This means that even while wages are growing, it's difficult for consumer spending power to keep up, unless we reduce the intensity of oil in our economy.
It's a point I've repeatedly made - oil prices have declined only because of the weakening economy. When the economy grows again, oil prices will rise again and eat into wages, jeopardizing the recovery. To break that cycle we must move away from oil. High speed rail is a key part of that overall strategy, which is why it and other forms of mass transit must be included in the stimulus.
Avent goes further to talk about the politics of the stimulus:
The lack of transit spending is unquestionably political, and not logistical, in nature.
The possibility remains that the Congressional leadership and the Obama administration are waiting for the 2009 transportation bill overhaul to adjust spending priorities, and indeed, that vote will be hugely important for the future of the nation's infrastructure. There may also be scope for funding in Obama's energy bill. But there is reason for concern here.
The security of our economy and our environment depend upon a sea change in transportation planning. That transit and rail were so easily sacrificed in stimulus negotiations should send us a message -- now is no time for transit supporters to ease up on their legislators. We'll need to fight until the money is in the pipeline.
Emphasis mine. The story is that transit funding WAS in the stimulus until someone either in Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, or Barack Obama's office took it out. All three have at one point or another expressed commitment to support HSR and mass transit, so this goes to prove Avent's point - that we have not yet won a victory for sustainable transportation in Washington DC, and that we must continue the fight to ensure that we do win. Otherwise transit and HSR funding might get thrown overboard again in the name of political expediency. We must show our leaders that it is actually costly for them to do so.
UPDATE: Elana Schor at Talking Points Memo explains that mass transit and passenger rail got the shaft in order to make room for more tax cuts, quoting Oberstar:
The reason for the reduction in overall funding -- we took money out of Amtrak and out of aviation; we took money out of the Corps of Engineers, reduced the water infrastructure program, the drinking water and the wastewater treatment facilities and sewer lines, reduced that from $14 billion to roughly $9 billion -- was the tax cut initiative that had to be paid for in some way by keeping the entire package in the range of $850 billion.
Stupid. Just stupid. Tax cuts do not grow the economy; in this environment they will be put in the bank either as savings or as debt service. If they felt that strongly about cutting down infrastructure projects to pay for tax cuts (which is already poor policymaking) then roads and not rail should have been the target.
What this shows is that the new leadership in DC - in both the Congress and the White House - are not committed to mass transit and passenger rail when the going gets tough. Just because it's easy to say on the campaign trail shouldn't mean it's easy to abandon once in power.