Evaluating McCain and Obama on travel issues

The pollsters say there are still quite a few undecided voters out there, so if two wars and an economic crisis aren't enough to sway your opinion, maybe it's time to evaluate both candidates' views on travel and aviation.

It's easy to argue that how a president addresses the nation's economic woes directly affects the travel industry. As do a host of other campaign topics—national security, energy, global warming, employment, taxation and dozens more. But what follows is a rundown of specific travel and aviation issues, with the stated positions and track records of both Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama.

I contacted both campaigns and spoke to representatives but did not receive answers to specific questions I had e-mailed (though one of the candidates now floods my inbox with solicitations for donations). Many of the policies stated below are taken from the two campaign websites, as well as from voting records, public statements and media interviews. It should be noted that the Obama-Biden site offers a detailed section on travel and transportation, while the McCain-Palin site does not (see box at left).

The big picture

There is more evidence of how a President McCain would respond to travel issues than how a President Obama would. This is because McCain first entered the House of Representatives in 1983 and the Senate in 1987, while Obama entered the Senate in 2005, so the Republican candidate has a much longer track record of voting on aviation and travel issues. In addition, McCain served on three separate occasions as Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, which includes oversight of key transportation sectors.

Geography would indicate both candidates are more than familiar with airline issues. Both McCain and Obama represent states in which airlines are headquartered: McCain hails from Arizona, home office of Phoenix-based US Airways (and America West prior to its merger with that carrier), while Obama is from Illinois, home of United's headquarters in Chicago. And Obama is quick to note Chicago is and always has been "one of the nation's major rail transportation hubs."

Both vice presidential candidates have ties to travel as well. Sen. Joe Biden is well known for supporting Amtrak, as well as for commuting between Delaware and Washington, D.C., via the rail line. Meanwhile, Gov. Sarah Palin hails from a state that is absolutely dependent upon civil aviation — Palin's husband Todd is a pilot and the owner of a Piper Cub — though it's not known how this might affect the Republican ticket's views on related issues.

Support and funding for rail

If there's one travel issue on which the two presidential candidates stand in stark opposition, it's support for the nation's rail lines and rail infrastructure.

While head of the Senate Commerce Committee, McCain opposed funding for rail and singled out Amtrak as a symbol of government waste. In 2002, McCain stated: "Amtrak should be restructured to eliminate its reliance on the American taxpayers and to allow for its privatization." One year later, McCain proposed an alternative reauthorization bill for the rail line, saying, "I cannot support an approach which further postpones reform and calls for operating the same trains, over the same routes, with millions more in operating losses, and a continuing need for large infusions of capital from taxpayers."

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