In his customary salesman style, Vice President Joe Biden recently made a pitch to a Philadelphia crowd for a plan to spend $53 billion over the next six years on a national system of high-speed rail.
Biden’s performance brings to mind the classic Simpsons episode "Marge vs. the Monorail" in which con-man Lyle Lanley convinces the town’s residents to waste money on an exciting-sounding high-speed train that turns out to be a boondoggle.
The full episode can be viewed here, but here’s the scene in which Lanley whips the crowd into frenzied support of his plan:
There are some uncanny parallels between the two pitches.
Biden says that “If we don’t get a grip, folks, they’ll not only be teaching us, they’re gonna own our kids.” The VP is referring to other countries that have built or are building high-speed rail systems, such as China.
Lanley gains his audience’s attention by threatening to take his “greatest idea” to the next town over. Lanley then proceeds to point out other towns across the country that he has allegedly “put on the map” with a high-speed train. (Biden cites the city of Meridian, MS, which is a stop on Amtrak’s money-losing Crescent Line, as an example of the magic of federal rail subsidies.)
Biden promises what every politician promises when talking about the latest, greatest way to spend other people’s money: jobs! The VP says “We’re going to insist … that there be a strong ‘Buy America’ requirement which can help us create tens of thousands of middle-class jobs… These are real live jobs that pay real good money.”
Lanley makes the same promise. Barney, the town drunk, asks him, “What about us brain-dead slobs?” Lanley responds, “You’ll be given cushy jobs!”
Lanley’s promises never pan out, as he’s really a con-artist who suckered the town into buying a faulty train that doesn’t work. Joe Biden means well, but his train isn’t going to work either — not without wasting hundreds of billions, and perhaps a trillion, taxpayer dollars.
A Cato essay on high-speed rail explains why the Obama administration’s high-speed rail dreams make little practical and economic sense, especially when the government’s finances are already like a train headed off a cliff.
Fortunately, new House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) dismissed Biden’s announcement as being akin to “giving Bernie Madoff another chance at handling your investment portfolio.” Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), chairman of the House Railroads Subcommittee, labeled it “insanity.”
However, Shuster recently penned an op-ed in a Connecticut newspaper in which he supports the idea of a federally-funded high-speed New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line. That’s right, Springfield — the name of the fictional town in The Simpsons. Like Biden, Shuster expresses the same overblown concern that the United States is “behind the international curve” when it comes to government subsidy-dependent high-speed rail.