The Corner

About Harry Reid’s Pet Project . . .

Matt Yglesias has been on the warpath for days, accusing Republican lawmakers of “lying” about a “mythical” high speed rail project that Harry Reid has been lobbying for being included in the stimulus bill.(See here, here, and here.)

Ok, here’s what we know — $8 billion in the stimulus bill has been allocated to high speed rail. Here’s an AP article from last week prior to the stimulus’ passage:

In late-stage talks, Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pressed for $8 billion to construct high-speed rail lines, quadrupling the amount in the bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday.

Reid’s office issued a statement noting that a proposed Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas rail might get a big chunk of the money.

A high-speed rail between the two cities has been a pet project of Reid’s for a while now — the Senate Majority Leader earmarked $45 million for the project last year. Yglesias is also claiming that as the bill is written, a train to Las Vegas is unlikely to get money:

In practice the areas that will get a leg up should be the Federal Railroad Administration’s officially designated high-speed rail corridors. As it happens, LA-Vegas doesn’t make the cut.

Well, Harry Reid’s own spokesman doesn’t seem to think that’s the case:

Reid spokesman Jon Summers said in a statement that the transportation secretary “will have complete flexibility as to which program he uses to allocate the funds,” but he acknowledged that “the proposed Los Angeles-Las Vegas rail project would be eligible.” Summers said the rail funding “was a major priority for President Obama, and Sen. Reid as a conferee supported it.”

Further, Reid’s hometown newspaper seems to be under the impression that money could likely be rolling in for the Las Vegas train:

Reid succeeded in quadrupling to $8 billion federal grants for high-speed rail that could one day help build a maglev railroad from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. It is unclear just when and how Reid fought for those items, but by week’s end all were included.

In fact, the bill doesn’t actually outline any terribly specific high speed rail plans except to say that the Transportation secretary should submit plans for the money in 60 days. Don’t be shocked if those plans come to include a “big chunk” of money for Reid’s Las Vegas train. While reports have emerged that the high speed rail funding was pushed for directly by the White House, it’s a bit much for Reid to be playing innoncent about his intentions here, as he does in this Politico article:

“It’s amazing. I’m stunned,” he said in an interview Friday, hours before the bill passed Congress. “I’m glad I get the credit in Nevada, but this is Obama’s No. 1 priority. This is his legacy issue out of this bill, because we need these high-speed corridors. … I’ll take credit but frankly didn’t have much to do with it other than carry forward with what Obama wanted.”

Yes, I’m sure the Senate Majority Leader issuing press releases and supporting the provision in conference has nothing to do with with him recieving credit for or “carry[ing] forward” the high speed rail provisions in the bill.

Now Yglesias does have one legitimate complaint — Rep. Candice Miller (R – Mich.) made a statement Friday where she was under the impression that all $8 billion would be earmarked just for the L.A. to Vegas train, not just potentially a big chunk. And House Minority Leader John Boehner made a similar statement on the House floor Thursday, also under the impression that all of the money would be going to Reid’s project.

But given that the funding — “most of which was added in the final closed-door bargaining,” according to the Politico — was included in the bill by Democrats in just about the least transparent way possible and Republicans were left with one evening to read the 1000+ page bill, circumstances seem ripe for breeding misunderstanding and misinformation. Particularly in light of the fact that Reid’s office seemed eager to promote the project and take credit for it.

If Yglesias still wants to assume motives and accuse Republicans of exaggerating for political gain, so be it. When you have the facts it deosn’t quite seem to be the damning mendacity Yglesias wants it to be. In fact, the bigger falsehood seems to be that Yglesias is accusing Republicans of “inventing fictional projects” to rail against.


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