We're late in getting to the national papers, since there was so much state and local news today. That's not unsual: many of the weekly papers post their online editions on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Away from the First, the Washington Post looks at the consequences of the DM & E loan denial in Senator's Railway Lobby Link May Have Helped Derail Loan:
The federal government killed a $2.3 billion railway loan after opponents attacked Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), because he was the railway's lobbyist before winning election and backing legislation favoring the loan to his former client.
The privately held Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad wanted the money for an 860-mile Midwestern rail-line renovation and expansion project. The Federal Railroad Administration said its denial was based on financial factors. But project backers and detractors said the loan sank after opponents, led by the Mayo Clinic, based in Rochester, Minn., ginned up congressional heat on the agency. The key to that was Thune's role: The Republican did nothing illegal, but his seamless transition from the railway's lobbyist to its Senate champion handed ammunition to opponents and their own lobbyists.
Thune worked as a DM&E lobbyist for two years, earning more than $200,000 from the company, before winning his Senate seat in 2004. In 2005, he helped write legislation expanding a federal railroad loan pool from $3.5 billion to $35 billion. DM&E was not mentioned in the legislation, but the expanded funding enabled it to apply for $2.3 billion, about one-third of the project's $6 billion price tag.
Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), whose opposition to the project helped him win his seat in November, sponsored legislation to assert congressional oversight of the loan. "It's just appalling to me how it was done," he said. "I want to see rail expanded, too, but I want it done correctly. It's about the system and the transparency of government."
On Monday, the railroads administration sent a letter to Schieffer denying the loan. "I read a lot of things for the first time in the official denial letter," he said. "The list is long and deep with supporters, and we are committed to doing everything we can to see it through."
Mayo's Forbes vowed further challenges: "Our commitment would be unwavering," he said.
Looking back, Thune has no regrets, except: "The railroad probably could have done a lot better job on the PR front."
Let's hope that the legislation Tim Walz proposed, and Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar's companion bill in the Senate, gets passed and signed into law by the President. Walz, Coleman and Klobuchar don't oppose rail in the First, but a boondoggle of the scale of the denied loan simply defied common sense. Strong oversight legislation will help mind the taxpayers' purse.