Friday, May 15, 2015

Yes Mr. Speaker, It Is All About The Funding

As one might expect the tragic derailment of Amtrak Train # 188 has resulted in partisan finger pointing as the political blame game begins anew.

Speaker Boehner bristled when a reporter asked if Republican efforts to cut Amtrak funding were responsible for the crash.

“Are you really going to ask such a stupid question? Listen, they (Democrats) started this yesterday. It’s all about funding. It’s all about funding. Obviously, it’s not about funding…The train was going twice the speed limit…twice the speed limit at the curve, That’s the only relevant issue. The train was going twice the speed limit. Adequate funds were there. No money was cut from rail safety and the House passed a bill earlier this spring to re-authorize Amtrak and authorize many a lot of these programs…It’s hard for me to understand that people take the bait on some of the nonsense that gets spewed around here.”

Methinks he doth protest too much.

The truth of the matter is that Republicans have a history of cutting domestic programs; including Amtrak. They favor cutting programs, as opposed to raising taxes, as the preferred method for reducing deficits and long term debt. Not 12 hours after the Amtrak #188 crash the Republican controlled House Appropriations Committee voted to cut Amtrak funding by $250 plus million dollars; a 15% cut from last year’s funding. In the end the committee approved $1.4 billion in funding; 1 billion less than the White House recommended.

Boehner is correct in that the crash occurred because Amtrak #188 went into a 50 mph curve at 106 mph. But the PTC safety system that the NTSB said would have stopped the train and avoided the accident, while installed was not yet fully operational due to piecemeal funding.

Democrats are not blameless here. When they held power in congress they chose to spend their political capitol on other issues…such as Obamacare.

Take a look at the voting record in congress for Amtrak funding and how it dovetails not just by party but by the electorate’s dependence on mass transit. Northeast corridor…mostly blue states…high population…high concentration of mass transit assets…high approval rate for Amtrak funding. Western states…mostly red states…low population…little in the way of mass transit assets…low approval rate for Amtrak funding. It’s not rocket science.

Speaker Boehner’s comments and for that matter the entire Amtrak debate misses the bigger issue. Amtrak and its funding are but a piece of a much larger puzzle.

We continue to ignore the fact that our entire infrastructure is in decay and out of date. Every economist that I can find says that investment in infrastructure is a critical component to achieving sustainable, robust economic growth, full employment and long term prosperity. And with today’s low interest rates…they say that there is no better time to borrow and make that investment. But we’d rather used borrowed money to blow stuff up.

Speaker Boehner says it’s not about the funding. Yes it is. China spends 9% of its GDP on infrastructure. India spends 7%. We spend 2%.
If we want to compete on the global stage…if we want to be considered a world power…then we have to be willing to invest in our infrastructure.

Yes Mr. Speaker, it is all about the funding.

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