Shuster on Amtrak bill: ‘Nobody got everything’

Getty Images

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said Tuesday that a bill that would cut Amtrak’s construction budget by 40 percent was bipartisan because “nobody got everything” that they wanted. 

The measure, which was unveiled by lawmakers last week, would reduce Amtrak's funding for new construction from approximately $1.3 billion per year under the last Amtrak appropriations measure to about $770 million annually beginning next year. 

The budget cut would be offset by a slight increase in spending in the measure for current train operations to appease Democrats.

ADVERTISEMENT
Speaking at an event that was presented by The Hill and sponsored by Airlines for Airlines For America on Tuesday, Shuster he hoped the Amtrak bill would be approved quickly during a markup that is scheduled to take place on Wednesday. 

“Nobody got everything, everybody got some,” the transportation committee chairman said of the Amtrak funding bill. 

“I think it’s a very good strong reform bill that builds on the past bill that had reforms for passenger rail,” Shuster continued. “We’re working very hard to make sure there are no amendments….if we’re able to eliminate them all, I’m hoping it passes on a voice vote.” 

Amtrak has traditionally received about $1 billion per year for a combination of operations and construction from the federal government since its inception in 1971.

The measure that will be considered by the House Transportation Committee on Wednesday requires Amtrak to divert about $470 million per year to a trust fund for improvements along its heavily traveled northeast corridor, the most profitable in the company’s network. 

The measure would appropriate another $300 million per year for construction on Amtrak routes in the rest of country and provide about $982 million per year for nationwide operations. 

The result is a reduction in Amtrak's overall annual appropriation from about $1.9 billion to approximately $1.4 billion per year. The company's 2008 appropriations bill provided about $606 million per year for its nationwide operating expenses, in addition to the $1.3 billion for construction. 

Shuster said Tuesday GOP leaders had the support of Democrats on the transportation committee who have normally opposed efforts by Republicans to reduce Amtrak’s funding, despite the proposed cut to the company’s construction budget. 

“I’m happy to say it’s a bipartisan bill with a big four agreement,” he said. “[Reps.] Nick Rahall [D-W. Va.] and Corrine Brown [D-Fla.] have signed onto it. We had support within in the industry, we have support within the labor unions.” 

Labor groups that represent Amtrak employees offered a more muted take on the House's proposed rail funding bill than they have in past battles about the company’s funding. 

"This bill provides a critical reauthorization of Amtrak for the next four years, improves rail infrastructure, and provides greater certainty to Amtrak and its employees as they implement long-term modernization plans,” AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Ed Wytkind said in a statement when the House’s proposed bill was released last week. 

“Most importantly, the Shuster-Rahall bill rejects wrongheaded reform proposals to privatize Amtrak, break up the operation, and outsource good middle class jobs,” he continued.

Wytkind criticized Republicans for moving to cut Amtrak’s construction funding in the measure, however. 

“We do caution that this bill does not provide Amtrak the level of funding it requires to deliver the service Americans need and deserve,” he said. “While other nations around the world – mostly notably China – are leading the way on passenger rail expansion and modernization, we must push back against those who believe that austerity budgets can somehow propel our economy forward. We should be using the rewrite of our passenger rail laws to set in a motion a long-term vision for expanded investment in Amtrak.”