House Republicans Zero in on High Speed Rail

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(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation)   High-speed rail projects could be among the first to go if conservative spending hawks get their way in the new 112th Congress.

Republicans are sharpening their budget shears, looking to make good on promises to cut federal spending and reduce the overall size of government. And it looks like high-speed trains are high on the list.

A new House budget-cutting bill introduced Thursday by the conservative Republican Study Committee aims to return federal non-defense discretionary spending to 2006 levels. It cuts more than 100 programs, including the more than $10 billion in high-speed rail money funneled to cities and states in the economic stimulus bill.

Overall, the RSC bill looks to slash $2.3 trillion in federal spending over the next 10 years.

“This bill represents the first step in the process, not the last. To achieve long-term fiscal stability, we must finish the race by making the tough decisions Congress has put off for far too long,” said Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) head of the RSC’s budget task force.

The RSC represents the conservative wing of the Republican House conference, so consider that the “high water mark” in negotiations that ultimately will have to satisfy Republican leaders, the Democratic-controlled Senate, and President Obama.

But other Republicans with direct influence over transportation projects also have high speed rail in their sites. They include Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), the new chairman of the subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, who has made it clear that high speed rail funding is about to face new scrutiny.

The newly-empowered chairman has begun to get critical of the way in which the Obama Administration doled out high-speed rail grant money, suggesting politics, and not practicalities, guided many of its choices. Shuster told CQ Today that the Obama Administration isn’t responding to his requests for information on how they chose where to steer high-speed rail money.

A statement on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Web site says high-speed rail has “potential” in transportation infrastructure. But it also suggests Shuster’s panel is getting set to go after the Obama Administration in hearings.

“The Committee will provide needed direction for this program, working to ensure that taxpayers are not burdened with economically unviable and ineffective projects. The Committee will seek to incorporate private sector participation in financing, building, and operating rail projects,” it says.