Although Scott Walker is far from a verbal admission of defeat in the fight against the Milwaukee to Madison rail line, the words he used yesterday to defy the project likely display a recognition on his part that the federal money allocated for high-speed rail will not be made available for the improvement of Wisconsin roads.
On Sunday, Walker said using the money for highways is still his preference, but that he and his staff also had "looked at options relative to rail." He specifically mentioned Amtrak's existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha line and the long-distance Empire Builder, which runs from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest by way of Milwaukee, the Twin Cities and several Wisconsin communities.
Slowly backing away from the insistence that the money only be used "to fix Wisconsin's crumbling roads and bridges," Walker is likely softening the blow the broken promise will give his supporters.
Perhaps the easiest way for Walker to save face on the issue is to simply blame D.C. Democrats -- they control the Senate and the White House don't they? The precedent he cited during the campaign to justify hope for his plan -- the $200 million allocated for rail between Milwaukee and Waukesha that Congress re-designated to fund the Marquette Interchange in 1998 -- was passed under a Republican Congress.
Few members of Congress, Democrat or Republican, care deeply about whether Wisconsin builds a high-speed rail line or not. However, even fewer members are going to fight so that Wisconsin gets an especially generous highway package this year. Boehner might recognize a benefit in fighting for the political fortune of a newly emboldened Wisconsin Republican Party, but as Rep. Tom Petri noted a few days ago, he would do so at the risk of angering Republicans in states such as Florida, who would like the money.