Amtrak funding cut approved a day after crash

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Republicans in the House approved a funding cut for Amtrak on Wednesday over the objection of Democrats, who linked the proposed reduction to a deadly derailment near Philadelphia.  

The cut — part of a $55 billion funding bill for the departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development — was approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. 

The GOP-sponsored measure contains $1.13 billion for Amtrak, down from the roughly $1.4 billion Congress appropriated for 2015.

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The reduction sparked hours of partisan debate Wednesday, as Democrats accused Republicans of turning a blind eye to Tuesday's Amtrak crash, and GOP leaders countered that it was Democrats who were being insensitive by milking the deadly accident. 

“I do hope we can keep the accident in mind [during today’s markup],” Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said about the derailed Amtrak train, which was traveling from Washington, D.C., to New York City when it crashed outside of Philadelphia.

“Cutting the funding drastically does not help improve the services at Amtrak,” Lowey said. 

The route is part of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, home to the company’s most heavily traveled routes, which are also used by many lawmakers to travel back and forth to their districts each week.

Investigators said in their preliminary investigation that the train, which was carrying 238 passengers, exceeded 100 mph on a curved part of the track that had a 50 mph limit. At least seven passengers were killed in the accident and more than 100 more were injured. 

Democrats chastised GOP leaders for moving to cut Amtrak’s funding after the deadly crash.

“Last night, we failed them,” Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), an appropriator, said of the victims of the fatal accident. “We failed to invest in their safety. We failed to make their safety our priority. We are divesting from America in this committee. ... It defies the interests of the American people.”

Republicans accused House Democrats of jumping to conclusions about the connection between funding cuts and the crash; the GOP also blocked amendments offered by Democrats that would boost funding to Amtrak, including one that would provide $2.5 billion. 

“I was disappointed to hear my colleague talk about the funding for Amtrak and to suggest that because we haven’t funded it, that’s what caused that accident, when you have no idea what caused the accident,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said.

“Support it if you want,” Simpson said of the amendment to restore Amtrak funding, but he admonished Israel, saying that linking it to the Philadelphia crash “was beneath you.”  

White House spokesman Josh Earnest pointed out that President Obama’s budget calls for a $1 billion increase in funding for Amtrak and criticized Republicans for backing cuts to the rail agency. 

Increased Amtrak funding is “good for our infrastructure, good for our economy,” he said, adding that it is “not reflected in the Republican budget.” 

Earnest later said the cause of the derailment is still under investigation, and he did not want to link rail funding to the incident. 

Despite the partisan back-and-forth, the GOP-led Appropriations panel advanced the bill, which heads next to the House floor. 

— Rebecca Shabad and Jordan Fabian contributed to this report.