Two Cheers for Romney

Michael Lewyn's picture

The conventional wisdom among Americans who spend lots of time thinking about public transit is that four more years of Obama will be good news, and the election of the Romney-Ryan ticket would be bad.  I have to admit that this belief is by no means completely irrational: after all, President Romney will be much less likely than President Obama to veto a transportation bill passed by a Republican Congress, and might propose a mere austere budget than President Obama.   Nevertheless, I think there are good reasons to believe otherwise. 

First of all, a Republican Congress of 2014 might differ somewhat from a Republican Congress of 2012.  Under President Obama, a rational Republican Congressperson is likely to try to distinguish himself/herself from the President in order to avoid a right-wing primary challenge; as a result, President Obama's support for public transit and high-speed rail has probably reduced GOP support for these policies. 

But the history of the 2000s suggests that a Republican Congress working with a Republican President may have different incentives.  After George W. Bush became President, the Republican Congressional majority was willing to accommodate constituents' support of Amtrak and public transit.  Between FY 2001 and FY 2007 (when the Democrats took over Congress) federal aid to public transit increased from $6.9 billion to $8.9 billion, a 29 percent increase (By contrast, the consumer price index increased by only 19 percent during that period).  Transit ridership also increased during this period, from 9.6 billion to 10.2 billion. 

Furthermore, a Republican Congress may unintentionally support local government revenues, and thus local public transit authorities, by supporting expansionary fiscal and monetary policies (as opposed to austerity policies that might reduce economic growth and thus cut into local revenues).*  Under President Romney Republicans will need immediate economic growth in order to be reelected, since a stagnant economy would make President Romney unpopular, thus dragging down Congressional Republicans.   (By contrast, under President Obama Republicans had little incentive to support short-term growth, since growth would benefit President Obama).  Assuming for the sake of argument that Republicans were in fact successful in promoting nationwide economic growth, local tax revenues would recover, thus increasing support for public transit and other local government programs.

Even if Congressional Republicans do not move to the center, a Republican Congress might not last for four years under President Romney.  When Clinton was reelected in 1996, the Republicans held Congress, and continued to do so until well into the Bush Administration.  Similarly, when President Reagan was reelected in 1984, and Vice-President Bush succeeded him in 1988, the Democrats held the U.S. House.  In other words, when incumbent Presidents are reelected they do not have long coattails.

This pattern suggests that as long as Obama is President, Congressional Republicans are in a no-lose situation: if people are satisfied, they vote for the incumbents of both parties (so Republicans hold the House), while if they are dissatisfied, they punish the President's party (which means that if Obama is unpopular, the 2014 elections will yield a bigger and perhaps more radicalized House Republican caucus).  Thus, the Republicans will not suffer significant Congressional losses until the first midterm election after a Republican President is elected (that is, until 2018 at the earliest).

On the other hand, if Romney is elected and the economy does not grow in 2014, the Democrats will take over Congress.  Assuming that Congressional Democrats are more pro-transit than Congressional Republicans, this reason alone may make Romney the better choice for transit advocates. (Of course, President Romney could decide to propose austere budgets- but if Democrats control Congress, his proposals would receive exactly as much deference as President Obama's budget proposals, which is to say none whatsoever).  

Of course, all of this is just speculation, and I cannot say for sure that a Romney Presidency would be better for transit advocates than four more years of President Obama and a Tea Party Congress.  I do think, however, that this is a reasonable possibility.


*I am assuming that austerity policies do in fact reduce economic growth, and that expansionary policies support growth; I note, however, that many economists of the "Austrian school" reject this view.

Michael Lewyn is an assistant professor at Touro Law Center in Long Island.



Why speculate when you can listen

Mr. Romney plans to eliminate support for Amtrak.
Why would transit be any different?

The Romney analysis

I would have preferred to see this analysis after the election, not before it.
Your organization should never give any evidence of a political bent... and in fact should not have one.

Bruce E. Jones

Jonathan Nettler's picture


We respectfully direct your attention to the bottom of the Blog post, below Michael's signature:

"The views expressed are solely those of the author, and do not represent the views of any group or organization that he or she is affiliated with unless clearly stated, nor the views of Planetizen."


After reading this article and having just retired after 44 years as an urban/regional planner, I'm glad I am no longer associated with this kind of thinking. Until planners realize that they must work with everyone, not just their political ilk, we will continue to be mired in the inability to solve our many urban/regional problems. I realize this article was just about public transit but please tell me, what has been Obama's urban strategy???? Anything???? He has articulated nothing. Much of what will happen to influence our urban fabrics in the coming future has directly to do with people living and working in our urban environments. I'd say Romney is clearly ahead of the curve in this regard. And I am not politically attached and have not voted since 1968 specifically so that I am not beholden to any political ideology. I've always worked for the people of my communities....all of them. And your comments about the Tea Party!! Have you ever attended their meetings? Met with them? My guess is probably not.

Let me tell you a little eye-opening story. Just before I retired as the Director of the Growth Management/Planning Department for Santa Fe (NM) County for 16 years, my last task was to pass our second Sustainable Growth Management Plan. As we neared conclusion and the subjects of sustainability (anathema to most TP folks), zoning, regulations and permits were being discussed to finalize the plan, the Tea Party contingent came out by the busloads, handing me copies of the Constitution, challenging us about Agenda 21 and me personally as a socialist. I asked them to have a series of meetings with me to discuss their concerns. It was a truly amazing experience and we came away with a much better collective understanding of property rights/zoning/takings issues. The result was the creation of a very unique (nationally) local new Home Based Business ordinance that allows more people to work at home and on their own property, a whole new approach to zoning based on the geographic differences in our County, and the continuing evolution of a trails and open space program that the Tea Party people not only embraced but have become strong advocates of. Just a few weeks ago one of them wrote me a note and said "you know, you are the only one in all of County government that took any time to talk to us and meet with us". It is time for planners to become leaders and not advocacy political supporters.....and, most of all, problem solvers. I have come away from all of this into my retirement with a very healthy attitude about the Tea Party contingent....they treated me with great respect and turned out to my surprise, and only because of article like this, to be very intelligent and very clear about their objectives...if you'd listen.

I know I have strayed a bit from your point about public transit and all I can say about that is that I just returned from a month in France, Switzerland, Germany and The Netherlands and learned quite quickly that public transportation there (including the incredible attitude toward bicycles) works because the people want it for a variety of reasons, not because the government and a few government constituencies want it. We aren't there yet, mostly because our settings and systems are still so screwed up. But if you listen to all sides of the discussion maybe that will help you better understand the obstacles to problem solving in this case.

Strange but true

YESSSS!!!! I've been trying to tell folks that you should always vote for the presidential candidate who disagrees with you, but generally folks think I'm kidding.

Older folks have an expression, "It took Nixon to go to China", but there is no equivalent for the under-50 crowd.

But look at the evidence:
Who signed NEPA? A Republican (Nixon)
Who added work requirements (not training requirements) to welfare? A democrat (Clinton)
Who reduced nuclear arms? A Republican (Reagan)
Who increased the military budget during peacetime? A democrat (Carter)
Who passed the biggest civil rights expansion in decades (the expensive-for-everyone, unfunded-mandate Americans with Disabilities Act)? a Republican (Bush Sr.)
Who cut taxes and reduced revenues to Social Security (via the current payroll tax cut)? A democrat (Obama)

I'm sure there are plenty of other examples, but it makes sense...while congressmen and senators can stick to their guns, a president has to be elected by everyone, and often only gets programs through if the other side supports him.

Think about it: if an "evil conservative" tried to push welfare reform, it would be scrutinized and protested by every liberal organization, but since Clinton pushed it forward, who was left to fight it? Even the most knee-jerk, bleeding-heart, entitlement defender had to at least give it some consideration.

Similarly, if a "crazy liberal" president tried to regulate fracking, the same would happen - all the conservative groups would be saying "oh those anti-business democrats are at it again! Global warming is a scam! We can't let these Chicken Littles dictate our energy costs!" But if a conservative said that we need to examine what's being pumped into American soil in massive quantities, causing earthquakes in Texas and Ohio, democrats would likley get on board, and republicans would have to stop and listen.

You might ask "OK, sure, but why would a president from Party X decide to push for Party Y's agenda?" I have not figured this out yet. Possibly the election process exposes future presidents to all sorts of concerns from the "big tent" needed to get elected. Perhaps it's because parties are forced to pick centrist candidates for their "electibility." Possibly the kind of person who wants to be president just needs something successful to be remembered for. And maybe it's just that presidents push for all kinds of things, but it's these "opposite party" policies that are the ones most likley to pass congress!

Or maybe it's that the best and most important policies only get through if Americans from both sides work together to develop and support them. Nah.....

Michael Lewyn's picture

Amtrak and public transit

I think Amtrak has generally had less political support than local public transit, because it serves fewer people and fewer places.

Amtrak mileage has decreased since 1985, while light rail and commuter mileage have increased ( ). But its certainly a comparison I'd like to do more research on someday!

Two Cheers for Romney?????

Mr. Lewyn,

Are you a single issue voter? If so you should not be a planner.
While i am very pro-transit, I am also pro-housing, pro-public health, pro-environment, pro-education, pro-development, pro-preservation, and pro-government for the important issues only government can and will tackle. And all of these in balance and mindful of fairness in tax policy.

As a planner I am rational and analytic. Thus, i have concluded that the entire Romney -Ryan mishmash of proposed approaches to just about all of the above are completely opaque, contradicted nearly daily and absolutely cannot be believed.

Moreover, i am pro-choice, as are probably most women in the planning profession. I want a Supreme Court that is non-ideological. For all these reasons, i find it preposterous that you cheer Romney as good for your pet issue -- transit. Not only do I believe the rural / suburban Republican Congressional base is NOT going to become transit-ready any time soon, what about the REST of what comes with a Romney-Ryan administration?


Prepare for the AICP* Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $245

Essential Readings in Urban Planning

Planning on taking the AICP* Exam? Register for Planetizen's AICP * Exam Preparation Course to save $25.

City Map Posters are in!

Available in 9 different cities.
T-shirt with map of Chicago

Show your city pride

Men's Ultrasoft CityFabric© tees. Six cities available.