I just sat through a pretty boring hearing on rail financing. But I’m glad I stuck it out, because the fireworks came at the end, when Rep. John Mica picked a fight with the wrong man.
John Robert Smith is familiar face in transportation reform circles. The former Republican mayor of the town of Meridian, Mississippi, he now leads two of the most significant advocacy organizations in the field, Transportation for America and Reconnecting America. He also happens to be a former chair of Amtrak’s board of directors. All of those qualifications made him a natural choice to testify as a witness at this House Transportation Committee hearing.
Smith’s three main points were relatively uncontroversial: (1) a national passenger rail system has significant economic value; (2) maximizing the system’s value requires increased, stable, and dedicated federal funding; and (3) station area development is a promising area for utilizing innovative financing mechanisms.
Questioning went relatively smoothly until John Mica, former committee chair and self-appointed Amtrak bully-in-chief, started in on Smith. (The video of their exchange is already on Youtube.)
Now that Mica has vacated the chairman’s seat, he’s really let his freak flag fly, as they say. No longer bound to even pretend to negotiate with the other party or with leadership, he can just focus singlemindedly on his obsession with defunding Amtrak, and he apparently doesn’t feel bound to maintain any semblance of collegiality.
Mica started off asking Smith if he was aware that the federal debt was $16 trillion, or that funding had been cut for troops to receive hot meals.
Smith replied that his focus is transportation, and since he wasn’t able to poke holes in Mica’s line of argument, allow me to fill in. I didn’t know about this cutting hot meals thing either, and my initial reaction, also, was indignation. But then I Googled it. John Mica could do this too. And if he did, he’d get a Snopes entry that says that troops get four meals a day, but yes, in a few places, a hot breakfast has been replaced with an “MRE” – “Meals Ready to Eat” – to streamline operations in preparation for force reduction. In reality, no one in the military seems all that bothered about it, and officials emphasize that it wasn’t a budget issue that prompted the change.
Kind of funny Mica would pick such a poor example of budget-cut pain when there are so many legit ones to choose from. He could even stick with the “hot meals” theme and lament the nutrition assistance he voted to cut, or the hit taken by Meals on Wheels, which will deliver four million fewer hot meals this year because of the sequester.