New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney is known for never letting up until she gets what she wants. She successfully championed a “bill of rights” for credit card holders over the objections of the big banks. She was one of the leading proponents in a nearly 10-year battle to get Congress to cover the health-care costs of 9/11 first responders.
Now, she wants governments in her country and Canada to get moving on building a high-speed rail line that would link Manhattan, where her district lies, to cities north of the border.
“It would really help the economies of our countries dramatically,” Ms. Maloney insisted in an interview with The Globe and Mail, as she prepared to take the stage on Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention here. “Both of our countries should get behind it, push it and make it happen.”
The dream of bringing European fast trains to North America has been around for decades without making much headway. But it got a powerful boost from President Barack Obama, whose stimulus bill allocated $8-billion for the development of high-speed rail projects. Most of that money is still waiting to be spent.
Only one cross-border link – between New York and Montreal – is mentioned in the U.S. Transportation Department’s 2010 list of “priority corridors.” But little progress has been made on advancing the project advocated by the Quebec government. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has expressed no enthusiasm for the idea.
California is currently the site of the biggest and most controversial high-speed rail project in North America, a $68-billion plan to link San Francisco and Los Angeles in less than three hours. Construction on the first leg of the project, through California’s Central Valley, is slated to begin next year.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is also championing fast trains in his state. He is plowing state and federal funding into speeding up train service to upstate cities including Albany, Syracuse and Buffalo. He snagged an extra $500-million in federal high-speed rail money that was refused by Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio, who feared the faster train projects would end up as financial sink holes.
Ms. Maloney, whose district covers most of Manhattan’s east side and parts of Queens, thinks expanding the scope of New York’s projects to include more populated Canadian cities makes economic sense and could be the key to their viability.
In 2010, Mr. Cuomo said an eventual high-speed rail line linking New York with Toronto and Montreal would be “transformative.” But there is no such project on his current agenda.
“High-speed rail is the Erie Canal of the 21 st century,” Ms. Maloney added, referring to the early 19 th century project that linked New York City to the Great Lakes, clearing the way for faster trade and travel to the U.S. Midwest.
Meanwhile, Ms. Maloney said she agrees with Mr. Obama’s decision to delay approval of the Keystone XL pipeline until he is satisfied the revised route proposed by TransCanada will not endanger U.S. water supplies. The initial route was to pass through Nebraska’s Ogallala aquifer, the largest U.S. source of ground water used in irrigation.
“Canada has a stake in the Keystone pipeline being built in a way that preserves health and the water in their neighbour’s country,” Ms. Maloney said. “The last thing Canada wants is a bunch of sick Americans.”
Ms. Maloney, 66, who is seeking her eleventh term, is set to speak at the Democratic convention on Tuesday night as part of a segment celebrating women in Congress. Democrats accuse the Republican majority in the House of Representatives of waging a “war on women” and plan to use the convention to solidify a double-digit lead among female voters.
“I don’t know if it’s a war or not, but all of the victims are women,” Ms. Maloney said of repeated GOP attempts to pass legislation restricting abortion and eliminating federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
“The current Republican leadership has consistently gone to the floor [of the House] with bills that roll back access to contraception and birth control. Their so-called “personhood” amendments would outlaw access to abortion under any circumstances, including rape and incest. I can’t think of anything crueler than forcing a woman to bear the child of her rapist.”
Ms. Maloney caused a national uproar earlier this year when she walked out of a House oversight committee hearing into Mr. Obama’s so-called contraception mandate, which requires Catholic institutions to provide birth control coverage in their employee health plans. She blasted GOP committee chairman Darrell Issa for inviting only men to testify.
“What I want to know is: ‘Where are the women?’” she said. “I look at this panel [of witnesses], and I don’t see one single individual representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic preventive health-care services, including family planning.”
Even though her district includes thousands of financial sector workers, Ms. Maloney strongly supported the so-called Dodd-Frank bill that imposes new regulations on bank activities and empowers federal regulators to wind down a failing institution. The 2010 bill remains highly unpopular on Wall Street and has cost some Democrats, including Mr. Obama, critical support and donations from the banking industry.
Ms. Maloney faced a 2010 primary challenge from a hedge fund lawyer who criticized her support for Dodd-Frank. But the long-time incumbent won in a landslide with 81 per cent of the vote. She faced no primary opposition this year and is expected to be returned easily to Congress in November.
However, Ms. Maloney is not nearly as optimistic about her own party’s chances of retaking control of the House this year, after losing more than 60 seats in the 2010 midterm elections.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle, I’ll be honest,” she said. “But it’s unpredictable. I would never have believed in the last election that we would have lost so many seats.”