Amendment to ELIMINATE Amtrak voted down in US House

  • Published on September 7th, 2017

Why does the GOP hate Amtrak? Maybe because in small talls across rural America – the deep red American heartland – Amtrak is the most visible government program (well, after farm subsidies). But unlike farm subsidies (and highway subsidies, and oil subsidies), Republicans hate rail subsidies. But when push came to shove in Congress late last night, they stepped back from the brink, and voted down an amendment that would have literally destroyed Amtrak

National Association of Rail Passengers - how Trump's budget would destroy AmtrakBy Jeremy Bloom

It turns out that when you’re actually running the government, not just shooting your mouth off on Fox News, the things you do have real-world consequences. Who could have known that running a country was hard?

Background: Sunday Train: The steel interstate & sustainable transport in the age of Trump

The National Association of Rail Passengers sounded the alarm: “Despite positive, bipartisan steps taken by House and Senate appropriators over the summer to increase investment in passenger rail, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) is looking to make the Trump budget a reality by eliminating Amtrak’s National Network!”

Brooks tried to tack his Amendment #33 onto the must-pass government spending package. A “Freedom Caucus” firebrand, Brooks appears to have a very narrow grasp of the issues involved.

“What policy justification is there for forcing Americans who don’t use Amtrak to subsidize the travel of Americans who do use Amtrak? I know of none,” The Hill reports him saying during the House floor debate. “We don’t give these kinds of subsidies to people who ride on airplanes.”

Except, of course, we DO subsidize air travel – the FAA, airports, air traffic control – all that is paid for by taxpayers. Just as the FEDERAL HIGHWAY SYSTEM is entirely paid for by taxpayers. But I suppose Brooks is arguing on the basis of those “alternative facts” we’ve been hearing so much about.

“Instead of allowing Amtrak to continue to run up debts … we should force Amtrak to be self-sufficient,” Brooks added. “We must cut Amtrak from the government dole.”

National Association of Rail Passengers "Stand up for your trains!"

But Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), chair of the relevant committee, was happy to educate his colleague. While gently referring to Brooks as “sincere”, he said slashing this particular spending would actually cost folks MORE money.

“This bill is not just arbitrary decisions,” he added. “You see, we held hearings. And we carefully scrubbed each account to make sure that the reductions that we made were responsible and that were actually going to result in reductions.”

“It is not prudent to eliminate an entire transportation option, by the way.”

The House voted Brooks down, 128-293.

NY/NJ Gateway

The other big vote last night turned back an attempt to strip $900 million to jumpstart the $30-billion NY/NJ Gateway project, a desperately-needed upgrade to one of the busiest transit corridors in the nation. Tedd Budd’s (R-NC) Amendment #32 was couched as being “anti-earmark”, but in effect would have been yet another instance of the GOP sticking it to the blue-staters.

When former GOP cool kid Chris Christie took over New Jersey in 2010, he blew up the plan to build a new (desperately-needed) tunnel under the Hudson River, thinking that would be a sure-fire way to endear himself to hard-right GOP voters in the Presidential primaries, but that didn’t work out too well for him.

Background: NJ Gov Cancels Mass Transit Project. Is America Going Off the Rails?

“New Jersey canceled this project, a very similar project in 2010,” Budd said. “So we think resurrecting this seven, eight years later is completely inappropriate and we hope to get a vote on this.”

In the meantime, Superstorm Sandy damaged the existing 100-year-old tunnel, and now a replacement is even more desperately needed.

At this point, New Jersey Republicans want the project as much as Dems, and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was the one who put that $900 million in the budget agreement. So while it’s not too surprising that purists like Budd would try to monkeywrench it, it’s also not surprising that (at least for now) this is one infrastructure project that’s moving forward.

The bad news: Frelinghuysen basically stole the money from other line items, which will suffer as a result. According to The Daily Signal,

Half of the $900 million allocated for the Gateway Project can be traced to eliminating funding for the U.S. Transportation Department’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, or TIGER, which pays for a wide variety of infrastructure projects.

The other half, according to Budd’s office, comes from diverting the bulk of new grant dollars for capital investment in light rail to the project.

President Trump meets today with lawmakers from NY and NJ to discuss how to keep things going… as a New Yorker, it seems to Trump is behind the plan, if only to encourage more visits to his Manhattan properties.

 What you can do!

Use this tool to contact your representatives – tell them Amtrak deserves full funding!

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.

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