Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Gov. Jindal's GOP response
President Obama's remarks
- The Kats Report: Did light-rail deriding Jindal get lost en route to ‘30 Rock’
In Today's Sun
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal leveled a colorful if well-worn zinger at Democrats and at Las Vegas on Tuesday in the nationally broadcast Republican response to the president’s address to Congress.
Jindal repeated a favorite Republican explanation for why they voted en masse against President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic recovery package. He said the bill “is larded with wasteful spending” that includes “$8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a magnetic levitation line from Las Vegas to Disneyland.”
It was a strong line, one Republicans have used for weeks.
And it is false.
The bill includes no money for the long-sought high-speed rail link between Southern California and Las Vegas. Instead, the recovery bill signed into law last week allocates $8 billion and launches a competitive process requiring proposals for high-speed rail projects to compete for the money.
“There’s nothing in the language that says, ‘Las Vegas to Disneyland,’ ” said Rob Kulat, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration.
So far, at least 11 rail and four magnetic levitation trains, called maglev, are among those likely eligible to apply, according to the Federal Rail Administration. The Transportation Department agency will draft a plan within 60 days for allocating the funding.
The line to Las Vegas has been dreamed of for more than 20 years to ease congestion on the heavily traveled and often dangerous roadways from California.
Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, who represents Las Vegas and is in favor of the train, believes Jindal was “playing fast and loose with the facts,” a spokesman said. “In this case the lie is the money is going to come to Nevada no matter what.”
But the facts about the proposed train haven’t deterred a long list of Republican opponents of the recovery plan from singling out the Vegas train as a code word for waste — “Sin City Express,” as one lawmaker put it.
The train story came to life two weeks ago after the Associated Press discovered that $2 billion in high-speed rail funding had been increased to $8 billion after a long night of final negotiations over the bill. The story noted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a supporter of the train to Las Vegas, was a chief negotiator.
Reid insisted that the Las Vegas train would have to compete with all the others, and that Obama had supported the increased allotment. But that was lost in the din that ensued in the final days of the debate.
Days afterward, Politico’s David Rogers reported that Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, had been the one who pushed for the increased rail funding. Emanuel was working on behalf of the president, who believes in the promise of expanded rail capacity.
Rogers got this reaction from Reid over the fire storm that had engulfed him: “It’s amazing. I’m stunned ... I’ll take credit but frankly didn’t have much to do with it other than carry forward what Obama wanted.”
Lawmakers who railed against the train were trying to tarnish not only Reid but also Las Vegas as a symbol of excess. That attempt began a month earlier as Congress debated whether Las Vegas’ proposed mob museum would qualify for federal stimulus funding. Obama opened the door further when he suggested bankers receiving federal bailout money should not meet in Las Vegas on the taxpayers’ dime.
Suddenly Vegas was becoming a toxic asset. At least one conference on the Strip was canceled.
Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, said Republicans are in dicey terrain picking on Las Vegas.
“To take aim at a state which is definitely a swing state and to ridicule a project is not smart politics,” Baker said.
“Probably a lot of people who vote Republican go to Vegas and play the slots,” he said. “If the Republicans want to get the votes of the people who work in the casinos or serve at the restaurants, it’s not a great thing for them to do.”
As for what comedian Stephen Colbert might call the “truthiness” of Jindal’s train-bashing comments, Baker said it comes with the territory of political speeches.
“It’s unfortunately a fairly common practice,” Baker said. “False inferences — causing people to draw sinister conclusions about things that are otherwise innocent — is unfortunately the ammunition of many politicians.”
The professor added: “I imagine John Ensign was gnashing his teeth when he heard that.”
Ensign, in fact, said Wednesday that he had not heard Jindal’s speech. Ensign opposes spending federal dollars on the train, but believes the Vegas bashing is part of the Republican Party’s efforts to go after Reid and the House speaker — and it’s got to stop.
“It’s being used, I’m sure, because of Sen. Reid, because he’s the majority leader, just like anything they can use against Nancy Pelosi — that’s just a national target,” Ensign said.
Ensign said such comments, including Obama’s, hurt the tip-earning waiters and bell hops who suffer the most when visitor traffic declines.
“It sends the wrong signal.”
Reid spokesman Jon Summers added: “Republicans can say it all they want, but that doesn’t make it true.”
For several observers, the irony was not lost that Republicans relied on the governor of Louisiana, home of Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras, to bash Vegas on national TV.
The Associated Press reported that Jindal and his family left Wednesday for vacation at Disney World.