As President Obama expresses shock and grief over the tragic Amtrak derailment that left 6 dead and 200 hospitalized according to hospital officials, even Republicans don’t have faith that their own party will deal with the impending transportation funding bill responsibly.
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) said, according to a tweet by Oliver Knox, that he will be stunned if Republicans deal with the highway trust fund responsibly:
More @SenBobCorker: "I will be stunned if Republicans deal with the highway trust fund responsibly. It's not going to happen."
— Olivier Knox (@OKnox) May 13, 2015
As hundreds of people are being treated for injuries, the Republican led House Appropriations Committee is meeting to discuss cutting Amtrak’s budget by $251 million. President Obama asked for $2.5 billion in funding, but Republicans responded with a budget that calls for $1.1 billion.
Republicans have had it out for Amtrak for a long time, refusing to pass President Obama’s expansion of the rail service through the stimulus and defunding it at every turn.
In September of 2014, the House voted to cut Amtrak’s authorization for new construction spending by 40%, and they claimed it was bipartisan because they wanted to cut Amtrak funding all together and privatize it:
The measure, which was passed on a voice vote with little debate, would reduce Amtrak’s authorized spending level for new construction from approximately $1.3 billion per year under the last Amtrak funding measure to about $770 million annually beginning next year.
Republicans and Democrats on the panel said the measure was bipartisan, despite the construction budget cut, because it does not go as far as previous GOP efforts to completely eliminate Amtrak’s federal funding and privatize its profitable Northeast routes.
Republicans said the new measure would keep funding levels in line for the company while forcing them to streamline their operations when it came to construction.
So Republicans cut the funding from the usual estimated 1 billion and now they will decry any suggestion that maintenance and security require funding (see Benghazi). But not all Republicans are on board with their party.
Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA) called for a boost to funding for Amtrak on CNN Wednesday morning, citing safety concerns of his constituents, “If we’re not investing in our safety for the Northeast Corridor, we’re not doing what we should be doing down here. We need to continue to invest in our passenger rail system.”
President Obama expressed his grief and commended fire, police and medical first responders in a statement, “Along with Americans across our country, Michelle and I were shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the derailment aboard Amtrak Train 188. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those we lost last night, and to the many passengers who today begin their long road to recovery.”
“Along the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak is a way of life for many. From Washington, DC and Philadelphia to New York City and Boston, this is a tragedy that touches us all. As we work to determine exactly what happened, I commend the fire, police and medical personnel working tirelessly and professionally to save lives. Philadelphia is known as the city of brotherly love – a city of neighborhoods and neighbors – and that spirit of loving-kindness was reaffirmed last night, as hundreds of first responders and passengers lent a hand to their fellow human beings in need.”
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called for a thorough investigation into what went wrong, “This is a tragedy that hits close to home for many here in D.C. – along a familiar route for many Members of Congress traveling to and from Washington, and one of the busiest rail corridors in the nation. We must have a thorough investigation and assessment of what went wrong, and I am pleased the NTSB and FRA have deployed teams.”
Until the investigations are completed, we won’t know what caused the tragic derailment. But we do know that reckless defunding in an effort to impose a partisan agenda has dangers. This is logical, and when we defund security it’s disingenuous to make the next many years about how that security failed, failing of course to examine the lack of funding.
Republicans can’t make the argument against public transportation so they try to kill it quietly, by defunding it and making it so unworkable that people stop using it (see their efforts to kill the post office). They claim they are getting rid of bloat, as they justify multi-million dollar bonuses in the private sector (or, rather, the private sector whose losses are paid for by the public). If a top executive must be allowed millions in bonuses in order to perform, why doesn’t an entire transportation system require a similar increase in funding in order to perform?
Not investing in infrastructure can have life and death consequences. Republicans are gambling with Americans lives just to score a few partisan political points. For once, would it be too much to ask for House Republicans to put down their dog-eared copies of Ayn Rand’s fiction and do what is right?
Americans lives are depending on it.
Update 12:47 PM: Minutes ago, the House Appropriations Committee rejected an amendment to increase funding for Amtrak.