- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 8, 2011

President Obama is calling for a six-year, $53 billion plan for high-speed rail as he seeks to use infrastructure projects to create jobs.

An initial $8 billion in spending will be part of the budget plan Mr. Obama is set to release Monday. If Congress approves the plan, the money would go toward developing or improving trains that travel up to 250 mph, and connecting existing rail lines to new projects. The White House wouldn’t say where it would find the money for the rest of the program, though it’s likely Mr. Obama would seek funding in future budgets or transportation bills.

Mr. Obama’s push for spending on high-speed rail is part of his broad goal of creating jobs in the short term and increasing American competitiveness for the future through funding for infrastructure, education and innovation. During last month’s State of the Union address, Mr. Obama said he wanted to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years.

At the same time he is calling for more spending on sectors like high-speed rail, Mr. Obama has pledged to cut the overall budget as he seeks to bring down the nation’s mounting deficit. The White House has said environmental programs for the Great Lakes, and block grants for community service and community development are among the programs that will face cuts.

It’s unlikely that Mr. Obama’s proposed budget cuts will be enough to appease the GOP. Republicans controlling the House have promised to slash domestic agencies’ budgets by nearly 20 percent for the coming year.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. (right) walks with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (left) to a train at Union Station in Washington on Tuesday. They traveled to Philadelphia to tout plans for the nation's infrastructure. (Associated Press)
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. (right) walks with Transportation Secretary Ray ... more >

The White House has said cuts must be cautious and argues that drastic reductions in spending could cause the still-fragile economic recovery to stall. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Tuesday that the administration wouldn’t compromise when it comes to spending on the infrastructure, education and innovation programs Mr. Obama is touting.

“We cannot compromise. The rest of the world is not compromising,” Mr. Biden said in Philadelphia at an event announcing the high-speed rail initiative.

Mr. Obama’s call for increased spending on high-speed rail projects is nothing new. He has long seen the sector as an area of opportunity for creating jobs and improving the nation’s transportation system. His administration awarded $10 billion in federal grants for high-speed rail projects last year, including $2.3 billion for California to begin work on an 800-mile-long, high-speed rail line tying Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay area to Los Angeles and San Diego; and $1.25 billion to Florida to build a rail line connecting Tampa on the West Coast with Orlando in the middle of the state and eventually south to Miami.

Mr. Obama also laid out a plan last summer to invest $50 billion in high-speed rail, as well as highways, bridges, transit and airports, adding it to the first year of a six-year transportation bill. Congress didn’t act on the proposal before adjourning last year, but Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he is confident that lawmakers will take up the measure again and deliver a bill to Mr. Obama by August.