House defeats push for steeper Amtrak cuts

House defeats push for steeper Amtrak cuts
© WTVD-11

The House on Thursday rejected a conservative lawmaker’s push to impose steep cuts on Amtrak’s budget a month after a fatal derailment near Philadelphia.

The annual appropriations measure for the Department of Transportation contains $1.13 billion for Amtrak, down from the current $1.4 billion level.

Rep. Mo BrooksMo BrooksWashington Post fires back at GOP rep over voter fraud claims GOP lawmaker blasts Washington Post 'fake news hit piece' Pence in leaked audio: There will be 'full evaluation' of voter fraud MORE (R-Ala.) offered two amendments to slash Amtrak funding further. His first proposal, rejected 143-283 with 99 Republicans in opposition, would eliminate all $288.5 million for Amtrak operating grants. The other amendment, defeated 139-286, would strike the entire $850 million allocation for Amtrak capital and debt service grants.

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Brooks called on Congress to have the “courage to wean Amtrak from the taxpayer nipple.”

“It is appalling that the federal government undermines and threatens the future of America's children and grandchildren in order to subsidize Amtrak service that would be self-sufficient if riders stopped mooching off of Americans and instead simply paid for the actual cost of their rides,” Brooks said.

The Alabama Republican argued that Amtrak would be safer and more efficient if it were operated privately like airlines and buses. 

But Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), a senior appropriator, noted that all modes of transportation in the U.S. receive some sort of federal subsidization.

Said Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), “The funding cuts proposed in this amendment would simply force to shut down, strand millions of rail passengers, disrupt commuter operations, add to our already congested roads and airports, eliminate over 20,000 jobs nationwide, and jeopardize local economies and businesses that depend on Amtrak service."

Proponents of Amtrak have railed against House appropriators’ decision to slash its budget around the same time as the May 13 accident. The derailment resulted in the deaths of eight passengers, while more than 100 were injured.

Republicans representing urban areas were more supportive of restoring Amtrak funding. Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.), whose district includes Chicago suburbs, proposed an amendment that would increase Amtrak funding by $290 million. 

“Now is not the time” for cuts, Dold said.

Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that authored the bill, said the proposed offset to Dold’s amendment — cutting the Federal Aviation Administration — would be “unsustainable.”

“Air traffic control facilities would have to be closed and communities, frankly, would lose service. Critical operational support staff would be furloughed or, again, laid off. Safety could be compromised. Flights, again, would be canceled,” Díaz-Balart said.

Dold’s amendment consequently was rejected by voice vote.

Passage of the underlying appropriations measure for the Department of Transportation is expected next week.