House defeats conservative effort to defund Amtrak

House defeats conservative effort to defund Amtrak
© Greg Nash

The House rejected a conservative proposal late Wednesday night to eliminate $1.1 billion in federal subsidies for Amtrak.

An amendment offered by Rep. Mo BrooksMo BrooksAlabama Rep. Mo Brooks endorses Moore for Senate How Republicans split on the Harvey aid, fiscal deal House defeats conservative effort to defund Amtrak MORE (R-Ala.) to a government-spending package for the next fiscal year failed on a 128-293 vote with a bipartisan coalition uniting in opposition.

Brooks, a member of the House Freedom Caucus who failed to advance in the Alabama Senate GOP primary last month, argued that Amtrak subsidies are unnecessary.

“Stated differently, 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,” Brooks said during House floor debate.

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“We don’t give these kinds of subsidies to people who ride on airplanes,” he added.

But Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Department of Transportation, said Brooks’s amendment would be counterproductive. While Diaz-Balart diplomatically called Brooks “sincere,” the Florida Republican said that eliminating Amtrak’s federal subsidies would actually result in higher costs.

“This bill is not just arbitrary decisions. 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,” Diaz-Balart said.

“This is not the right way to do it,” Diaz-Balart said of the proposal offered by Brooks. “It is not prudent to eliminate an entire transportation option, by the way.”

Brooks countered that passengers should be able to pay the full costs of riding Amtrak trains, which reach more than 500 destinations in 46 states.

“I would submit that there is zero — zero — evidence that Amtrak passengers cannot absorb higher fares to pay their own way,” Brooks said.

Amtrak has received federal funds for operations and construction projects since its creation in 1971. Conservatives have long pushed to privatize the rail service, but Amtrak retains support among members of both parties.

The House is expected to pass the government-spending package later this week, ahead of an expected longer-term deal at the end of the year. Lawmakers plan to only enact a three-month stopgap bill lasting into December to avert a government shutdown on Oct. 1.

More than 900 amendments were submitted to the spending package, but House GOP leaders are only allowing select proposals to get floor time.

More politically divisive amendments such as those from Democrats to prevent federal funds from going to businesses owned by President Trump, for example, were not granted votes.