Capitol Alert: Bera, other vulnerable Democrats vote to block high-speed rail

06/12/2014 4:39 PM

06/12/2014 4:52 PM

Health care isn't the only issue where Rep. Ami Bera finds himself breaking with his party as he runs for for re-election in one of the most competitive congressional races in the country.

On Tuesday, the Elk Grove Democrat voted with three other California Democrats to block California's beleaguered high-speed rail project from receiving federal funds.

The amendment to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill, sponsored by high-speed rail foe Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, passed the House of Representatives on a vote of 227-186. However, it's not likely to survive in the Senate, where Democrats hold a majority.

Including Bera, four of the six Democrats who voted with Republicans were freshmen from California, underscoring the number of tight House races in the state this year.

The others were Rep. Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert, Julia Brownley of Thousand Oaks and Scott Peters of San Diego. The remaining two, Reps. John Barrow of Georgia and Collin Peterson of Minnesota, belong to a shrinking group of fiscally conservative Democrats known as "Blue Dogs."

"If you're facing a competitive election in California," said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont-McKenna College, "opposition is probably the smart move."

The $68 billion high-speed rail project is one of the signature efforts of Gov. Jerry Brown and President Barack Obama. But like Obama's Affordable Care Act, it's also encountered near-universal opposition from Republicans. Denham, who's chairman of the House Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, has made numerous attempts to kill the project.

Bera supported high-speed rail when he ran for Congress in 2010, losing to Republican Rep. Dan Lungren. Bera narrowly won a rematch with Lungren in 2012, but by then had turned against the project after the cost had nearly tripled.

Bera has criticized the president's health care law and has voted with Republicans on different attempts to make changes. But former Republican Rep. Doug Ose, is betting that his staunch opposition to the law will help him defeat Bera in November.

Pitney said high-speed rail isn't as potent a weapon for Republicans as health care, but it's on the radar in California this year because of the governor's race, putting even more pressure on Bera and his fellow freshmen.

"Early on, you're shoring yourself up," Pitney said. "You don't want to be a one-term wonder."

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