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Amtrak 21 Thrown a Bone

The omnibus spending bill, laden as it was with poor policy and pork politics, punished Northeastern and Midwestern Republicans that requested increased funding for Amtrak. 21 Republicans had their road projects excised from the bill at the request of Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-Okla.), whose dislike of Amtrak "is seen by some northern Republicans as suspect, given the close ties of Sunbelt conservatives to highway, oil and gas interests."

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has promised to restore funding for some of the road projects early in the next session. This hasn't placated the neutered Midwestern and Northeastern Republicans, but they will have to shut up and take it. GOP strategy is to suck the blue states dry, building up resentment of government, which can then be channeled into movement conservatism. They run as the anti-government Party despite their total control, creating a perverse incentive for malgovernance, corruption, and incompetence. So long as Americans reward them with their votes, we get the government we deserve.


The original The Hill article on the story:

The Hill, 11/24/04: Deep in the transportation section of this year’s omnibus spending bill, Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) dispensed a little appropriator’s justice, punishing 21 Republicans who wrote him a letter in support of $1.8 billion for Amtrak.

Istook, chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury and Independent Agencies, drastically reduced, or entirely excised, the transportation earmarks that those lawmakers were expecting to receive, making good on a little-noticed threat he issued in a letter last February.
UPI report on Istook's four sentence "apology."

An Oklahoma editorial:
Muskogee Phoenix, 12/8/04: Being the chair of a committee doesn't endow a lawmaker with totalitarian powers, and a czarist attitude doesn't work in a democratic government.

Just because a representative from New York, Connecticut or New Jersey doesn't agree with a lawmaker from Oklahoma, the people in New York, Connecticut or New Jersey shouldn't be penalized.

And we wouldn't want Oklahomans punished either for the attitude or actions of one of our lawmakers.
On the rumored McHugh/Istook tussle:
The Hill, 12/7/04: In December, Istook will have to face Weldon and McHugh, both of whom sit on the House Republican Steering Committee, to plead his case for remaining a cardinal. Several sources said that McHugh had to be physically restrained from Istook when he learned that his projects were struck from the bill.

Istook's office disputed this version of events. However, Leydorf acknowledged that McHugh was not pleased with Istook."I think Mr. McHugh was pretty upset," Leydorf told The Hill Nov. 23.

McHugh characterized his conversation with Istook as "spirited."

"We absolutely did not almost come to blows, but we did have a spirited discussion, and I have no doubt that Congressman Istook knew how passionately I felt about this," said McHugh.
How it's playing in Connecticut:
The Day, 12/11/04: This is the story of the “Amtrak 21.” It's a dramatic tale involving political intrigue and, according to some, near-violence between two congressmen. And it comes with a strong message for liberals and moderates: They, more than anyone else, need to get the federal government off their backs.

The Amtrak 21 is a group of moderate Republicans, mostly from the Northeast and Midwest. These lawmakers represent districts that regard Amtrak as an essential piece of their transportation grid. Their crime was writing a letter that called for $1.8 billion in Amtrak funding.

Rep. Ernest Istook does not like Amtrak. The Oklahoman is the chairman of the powerful House subcommittee that doles out money for transportation projects. Istook had previously sent his colleagues a letter that said, “Every dollar for Amtrak is a dollar less for other transportation funding, including projects in your state and your district.”

The Amtrak supporters took the Istook letter as a general statement. Little did they know it was a preview of the grisly revenge he would wreak against them. Istook then picked up an ax and massacred their pet projects.

For example, the Connecticut district of Rep. Rob Simmons lost $6 million for a new highway, $9 million for road widening and smaller sums for other items. During his re-election campaign last month, Simmons had told voters in his mostly Democratic ward that sending him, a Republican, to Washington would keep them in the good graces of the party in power.

Another Istook victim, Rep. John McHugh of upstate New York, had been flattering the chairman for years. When he got money for a Canadian border crossing in 2002, he thanked Istook with great servility. “I am thrilled that Chairman Istook and the subcommittee have honored my request,” his press release read. There are reports that McHugh was so enraged by the Amtrak betrayal that he and Istook came close to blows.

Not only had Istook turned a disagreement into a backstab, but he crowned it with an act of supreme hypocrisy. While crying about the scarcity of transportation dollars, he earmarked $50 million for a new 10-lane highway in Oklahoma City.


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