As a candidate for president, Obama spoke of high-speed rail as part of his vision of "rebuilding America." Campaigning in Indiana, he talked of revitalizing the Midwest by connecting cities with faster rail service to relieve congestion and improve energy conservation.
"The time is right now for us to start thinking about high-speed rail as an alternative to air transportation connecting all these cities," he said. "And think about what a great project that would be in terms of rebuilding America."
But the administration never emphasized high-speed rail when the House Appropriations Committee was writing its bill in January, so no money was included. The first real request came only days before the Senate Appropriations panel marked up, and the committee had to scramble to find room for $2 billion — in part by cutting other Obama priorities.
Last week, Emanuel greatly upped the ante, asking House-Senate negotiators for $10 billion for high-speed rail — far more than either bill provided.
"I put it in there for the president," Emanuel said in an interview. "The president wanted to have a signature issue in the bill, his commitment for the future."
Emanuel himself was excited by the idea, but the decision to wager so much on high-speed rail reflected the fact that other candidates for a signature Obama issue were fading.
Moderate Senate Republicans, whose votes were needed, were resisting the president’s school construction initiative. Modernizing the nation’s electric grid, another White House favorite, seemed to have lost some of its cachet.
High-speed rail sailed through with surprisingly little attention paid to the president’s role.
There were some branding issues with this bill to say the least, but Obama’s experience on the campaign trail demonstrated his ability to recover quickly and never make the same mistake twice. I imagine the next big move, which will probably be the the budget and the State of the Union some time later this month, will show an adjustment on that front.
But if Obama wants to truly make SUPERTRAINS!! his signature issue, there’s a lot more room for a meaningful commitment — this money is just a drop in the bucket.
ATRIOS WILL BE WATCHING.