House Republicans voted Wednesday to chop about a fifth of Amtrak’s budget, less than a day after a deadly train crash that Democrats pointed to as a prime example of the dangers of shortchanging the nation’s transportation needs.
They also rebuffed Democrats’ attempts to provide money for an advanced speed-control technology that federal investigators later said would have prevented the crash.
“Based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred,” National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt told reporters Wednesday evening. Sumwalt, who is leading the crash probe, spoke hours after the House Appropriations Committee voted down a Democratic amendment that would have offered $825 million for the technology known as positive train control.
The amendment was part of hours of action on a GOP-backed $55 billion transportation and housing bill that Democrats attacked as an example of badly misplaced priorities. New York Rep. Steve Israel directly tied the crash to Congress’ spending decisions, saying people expect lawmakers to look out for their safety — and “last night, we failed them.”
“It’s not just our trains,” Israel said during a contentious markup Wednesday, which occurred as the wreckage from the seven-fatality derailment in Philadelphia was dominating the news channels. “It is our bridges that are failing. It is our highways that are congested and riddled with potholes. It is our runways, our airports. … We are divesting from America.”…
Senator Menendez said in a floor speech Wednesday that the U.S. needs to “stop relying on patchwork upgrades to old, rusted 19th-century rail lines.”
“We in Congress are … failing to recognize the real world impacts,” he said. “We have a passenger rail bill that expired. We have a Highway Trust Fund on the brink of insolvency with no plans, no plans, to fix it sustainably. We have a crowded and outdated aviation system that we refuse to adequately fund. We have failed to upgrade with presently available technologies that can reduce the number of failures. We have appropriations bills aiming to cut already low funding levels of Amtrak in particular to meet an arbitrary budget cap. I can’t understand it…”
There is little vision and no leadership allowed in Congress. The Republican Party decided as a matter of policy to block any and all legislation starting with the first day of a non-white president of these United States.
Today’s Republican Party feels they owe nothing to the population of a nation that refuses to back up their bigotry, economics of myth and hubris, political policies that disown responsibility. The only tactic that feeds the emptiness where a heart belongs is to erect roadblocks to anything that might aid ordinary men and women.
They are beneath contempt.