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Transportation secretary defends bullet train at House hearing

December 6, 2012 | 11:51 am

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in 2010. Credit: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood vigorously defended California’s high-speed rail project in the face of sharp criticism from a pair of Golden State Republicans at a Capitol Hill hearing Thursday.

"We’re not giving up on high-speed rail," LaHood said.

LaHood squared off against critics of the project, including House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Jeff Denham, Republicans from California’s Central Valley, before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

McCarthy, citing the congressional scramble to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of automatic spending cuts and tax increases, questioned whether the federal government can afford to continue to fund the multibillion-dollar project.

"Just because we’ve invested money, does it mean we have to invest more?" he asked, expressing "real doubt" about whether the project will ever be built.

"Maybe this is the time we cut our losses," McCarthy added. "Look, I know Hollywood happens to be in California, but this is not a Kevin Costner movie. If we built it, I don’t know if they will come."

The hearing previewed a showdown between the Obama administration and congressional Republicans over continued federal funding for the project.

Denham, saying the project -- and economic climate -- have changed so much since California voters approved a 2008 bond measure  that it should be put back on the ballot "so we can end the project once and for all."

Republicans complained that the lack of private investment in the project puts taxpayers at risk of picking up the entire tab. LaHood said that several companies have been talking to state officials about investing in the project.

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-- Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in 2010. Credit: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

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