Back-to-back press conferences by Democratic and Republican House leaders, given from the same podium on Thursday, showed a contrast in how both parties are responding to the politics of a deadly train crash that killed at least eight people and injured scores more.
Just one day after the train derailment in Philadelphia — a product of unfortunate timing — the House Appropriations Committee took up a $55 billion transportation and housing bill that includes funding for Amtrak. House Republicans voted to cut one-fifth of Amtrak’s budget, and rejected attempts by Democrats to fund an advanced technology known as “positive train control” that federal investigators have said could have prevented Tuesday’s crash.
Republicans on Capitol Hill have defended the Amtrak cuts, saying they’re necessary in order to keep the budget under the spending caps agreed to four years ago by President Barack Obama and lawmakers. They chastised their Democratic colleagues and others for trying to link Tuesday’s deadline crash to a debate over spending.
“Are you really going to ask — that’s a stupid question,” House Speaker John Boehner said at a press conference, raising his voice to an International Business Times reporter who asked Boehner about Democratic claims that the GOP had cut Amtrak’s funding to unacceptable levels.
“They started this yesterday. ‘It’s all about funding. It’s all about funding,'” Boehner said. “Well obviously it’s not about funding. The train was going twice the speed limit. Adequate funds were there, no money’s been cut from rail safety and the House passed a bill earlier this Spring to reauthorize Amtrak and authorize a lot of these programs.”
“It’s hard for me to imagine that people take the bait on some of the nonsense that gets spewed around here,” Boehner added before ending the press conference.
Speaking shortly before Boehner in the same room, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called the GOP-run House Appropriations Committee’s decision to cut Amtrak’s budget for next year to $1.1 billion (from $1.4 billion) “unfortunate.”
Pelosi expressed her concern that the House Appropriations Committee voted down a Democratic amendment that would have offered $825 million for positive train control.
“We need it to be every place,” she said of the advanced speed control technology.
Pelosi added later that “Republicans have been very much against Amtrak for a very long time.”
The fight over Amtrak funding and the broader transportation appropriations bill comes as Congress continues to look for a long-term solution for how to pay for the country’s highways and transit needs.