Just two days after President Obama told the American people the economic stimulus bill will have “no earmarks”, the Associated Press reports that Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is telling his constituents in Nevada that he has personally worked out a deal as part of the House-Senate conference committee to get them money for a high-speed gambling train.
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.
This of course exposes the little game the President is playing with the public. He tells everyone there are no earmarks in the bill but then turns around and either (a) gives the money to the states, which he knows will fund the earmarks, or (b) instructs his agencies to fund the earmarks directly. It’s all very clever, if not deceptive.
Reid’s high-speed gambling train not only violates the President’s guiding principles for this bill, it also violates American taxpayers.
This so-called MagLev train (magnetic levitation) is estimated to cost $12 billion. Reid earmarked $45 million last year for the public transportation project from California to Las Vegas, which is in direct competition with a private high-speed train company, DesertXpress, which is building a train on a similar route with all private funding. It’s not just an earmark, it’s a job killing earmark.
Even a train that ran between L.A. and Vegas wouldn’t guarantee financial success. Amtrak’s Desert Wind between the two cities was canceled in 1997 because of low ridership. “I remain skeptical that there’s sufficient demand to make it appear it could be a market success,” said Martin Wachs at the Rand Corp. think tank. “And it would depend ultimately on the willingness of taxpayers to subsidize to some extent that service.”
If it is not bad enough that this project represent a backdoor earmark as well as a complete boondoggle, it also runs contrary to the President’s stated goal of preventing taxpayer money from being used for personal travel. Yesterday, the President blasted Wall Street executives for using TARP money to travel to …. where? … wait for it … LAS VEGAS!
Obama, who has been mustering public support for economic stimulus legislation, said during a town hall meeting this week in Indiana that companies shouldn’t hold such events at taxpayers’ expense.
“You can’t get corporate jets, you can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime,” Obama said.
The President has a point that taxpayer money should not be used to pay for Wall Street fat cats to fly to Las Vegas but why is okay for taxpayer money to be used to help pay for Hollywood elites get there on a fancy gambling train? And why are we subsidizing leisure in a stimulus bill rather than encouraging work and greater productivity?
It is outrageous that the President and Reid have cut this backroom deal. Apparently they believe the motto “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” also applies to House-Senate conference committees.