Paul Ryan’s New Budget Seeks to “Murder” Amtrak

Just four months ago, the country was hailing a bipartisan budget deal negotiated by Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray and her House counterpart, Paul Ryan. It was a respite from the deeply partisan posturing over spending that has gridlocked Washington for years. Even better, it was a two-year budget resolution, meaning it seemed the next fight would be a long way off.

Rep. Paul Ryan released an unnecessary budget proposal just to show off how badly he'd destroy transportation. Photo: ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/5446900144/##Gage Skidmore/flickr##
Rep. Paul Ryan released an unnecessary budget proposal to show off his deficit hawk bona fides.
Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Not long enough.

This week, Ryan unveiled a new “Path to Prosperity,” the title he puts on all of his attempts to starve the federal government.

Ryan didn’t have to release a budget this year, but as USA Today reports, “Republicans have long emphasized the importance of outlining the party’s philosophical priorities, even if [it] stands no chance of becoming law.” In an election year, Ryan appears eager to play up his deficit hawk bona fides and put his cooperative work with Democrats behind him.

No one could accuse Ryan of cozying up to Democrats this time around.

“This proposal takes a partisan jackhammer to our transportation infrastructure at a time when we need to be working together to find ways to rebuild it,” said Rep. Nick Rahall, the senior Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, in a statement. “This is budget déjà vu. Just like last year, this proposal is another road to ruin, not a ‘path to prosperity.’”

While this week’s budget plan technically fits within the broad outlines of December’s bipartisan agreement, the details Ryan fills in would never have been passed by the Senate or signed by Obama.

Ryan acknowledges that “efforts need to be made to find a long-term solution to the [highway] trust fund’s financial challenges,” and asserts that he places a priority on keeping it funded with user fees. But he has never supported a gas tax increase, and he doesn’t do so here. Instead, Ryan merely slashes spending — the same unimaginative and destructive plan Rep. John Mica had a few years ago that was booed off the stage.

According to Kevin DeGood, director of infrastructure policy at the Center for American Progress, Ryan’s new plan would cut surface transportation funding by $172 billion over the next 10 years.

Ryan also attempts to close the “loophole” that allows Congress to transfer general fund money over to the highway trust fund without recording it as deficit spending. This would require any future transfers to be “fully offset,” making them far harder to pass. While it’s indisputable that general-fund transfers aren’t the stuff of a sound transportation funding policy, and that, as Ryan says, “Congress needs to address the systemic factors that have been driving the trust fund’s bankruptcy,” closing off an emergency option while proposing no responsible funding sources is just dangerous.

But perhaps the most headline-grabbing item in his plan is the mention of eliminating support for Amtrak. That’s right — not reduction, elimination.

“Buried deep in the pages of Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposed 2015 federal budget today is a murder,” Midwest High Speed Rail Association Executive Director Richard Harnish said in a statement. “The victim of this crime is Amtrak, the nation’s federally supported railway system.”

To be fair, the Amtrak proposal is listed as an “Illustrative Policy Option,” not an essential pillar of the plan. But Ryan says that “the 1997 Amtrak authorization law required Amtrak to operate free of subsidies by 2002,” and he’s clearly getting impatient for Amtrak to make “the structural reforms necessary to start producing returns.”

In a statement, the National Association of Rail Passengers stressed the effectiveness of federal support for intercity rail. “Amtrak’s total federal grant only accounts for 0.037 percent of the budget, yet provides a critical role in providing mobility for scores of millions of passengers through its intercity and commuter operations,” said NARP Vice President Sean Jeans-Gail. “This is in no way a serious deficit reduction measure.”

Though the budget proposal stands no chance of passage, the House plans to spend the next two weeks debating it, as a platform for showcasing the Republican ideological zeal for cutting programs that vast numbers of Americans rely on.

  • SuperChief49

    There is a growing conspiracy on a national level emanating from inside “The Beltway” intent on derailing the triad of our national mobility–passenger rail.

    In mid-March, Amtrak released its proposed FY15 budget, requesting increased funding; however, for the first time, recommended severing the Northeast Corridor (Boston-NYC-Washington) and to dedicate all Amtrak funding and revenues to maintain, operate, and support its ownership of this line. Apparently, after helping to kill off the Federal Amtrak Reform Council (ARC), Amtrak now elects to cherry-pick the recommendation of separating the Northeast Corridor (NEC). However, the ARC’s intent was to turnover the Corridor to DOT or FRA and remove Amtrak from funding infrastructure; certainly not to kill the national system by confiscating all funding and revenues.

    Strangely, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) has remained silent on Amtrak’s FY15 budget, despite its disastrous impact on the national long distance routes and state corridors. Could this be related to NARP being on Amtrak’s payroll as a consultant; thus, muzzling any potential objections outside of the NEC? Such a conflict-of-interest is equal to the Sierra Club paid by a lumber company to allegedly consult, rather than representing the true interests of its membership. As well, why did neither Congress nor the mainstream media not bother picking up on Amtrak’s intent to derail the national system, and to focus exclusively upon its own Northeast Corridor?

    Now comes Congressman Ryan’s proposed budget. Rather than finally realizing a subsidy is a subsidy, whether highway or air, only Amtrak is targeted. Amtrak’s plan to make feasible the detachment of the Northeast Corridor was to lay-off funding the other services upon Congress. However, Amtrak already knew its proposal for individual states to pay their share of long distance trains was a template DOA. Indeed, Governor Martinez of New Mexico clearly understood that long distance trains are a Federal funding responsibility. Congressman Ryan is laying down a red line for overall budgeting. Add to this mix that when October comes around, what will the states do when they realize they took on their own corridor trains (mandated by Congress in 2008) at 100% of Amtrak’s alleged, non-trtansparent, non-GAAP cost accounting?

    Why does this scenario remind me of when Argentina attacked the Falklands to re-direct its population from its economic turmoil? Accordingly, we should use these stealth attempts to derail our national mobility by following actions:
    1) Change Amtrak’s by-laws and founding legislation to eliminate its political class of board of directors, who evidence collusion and little oversight over senior management. Again, as Amtrak is not a private business concern, also eliminate the oligarchy it has evolved into; re-define Amtrak’s role in the operation of rail services to represent and serve our national interests.
    2) Pull ownership of the Northeast Corridor out of Amtrak and gift it back to DOT, as it is counter-productive for Amtrak to fight for funding its infrastructure, when it cannot even receive requisite funding to run the trains.
    3) Encourage and economically support states to negotiate full public-private partnerships with firms capable of providing equipment and marketing to run their trains. The initial Federal granting to Amtrak of access to private railroads, insurance, and liability will revert to the states thru DOT. Communication and dispatching with railroads, as well as train crews, will be provided by the new Amtrak.
    4) As the long distance trains have been continuously dis-invested in since Amtrak’s inception in 1971, it will indeed be a Federal responsibility to not only support, but to re-build these services. Already, we know space demand far exceeds current capacity on these trains; yet, Amtrak has requested no capital funding to replace and increase the equipment. Certainly, the infrequent running of re-conditioned cars from the golden era of trains does not measure this pent-up demand to be served.
    5) Congressman Ryan needs to accept the already proven relationship between accessible, affordable, and acceptable mobility to economic development. Everywhere else passenger rail has been the catalyst for significant economic growth; why stunt it here? The current independent mode of subsidy for air and highway needs to become one fund to include passenger rail, with a more realistic approach to gasoline taxes, tolls on interstates; airlines paying full cost for FAA and Air Traffic Control–perhaps out of the $6B they make on ancillary service charges, i.e., baggage, seat preference, etc?

  • Willie Green

    Paul Ryan’s economic gibberish demonstrates why he is totally unfit for public office.

  • Nathanael

    As usual, Paul Ryan is a con man. Krugman has had a SERIES of blog posts aobut Ryan’s flim-flam and con artist tactics. Suffice it to say that his “budgets” are just phony.

    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/02/same-as-he-ever-was-3/?_php=true&_type=blogs&module=BlogPost-Title&version=Blog%20Main&contentCollection=Opinion&action=Click&pgtype=Blogs&region=Body&_r=0

    This sort of bullcrap is par for the course from a con man who is trying to con the Republicans.

  • workerbee

    I worked for Amtrak for over a year and could not take it another minute. They are the laziest bunch or workers you will ever meet, foreman included. They work harder at finding a locomotive to sleep in than doing a half hours worth of work in a day. The union backs up this behavior as well. I am so suprised the trains even run. Here is how they work. The new most intellegent new workers are made to do all the work, while the rest sleep. They do all the work because they don’t have senority yet and don’t want to make waves and either loose their job or get tagged a problem. If everyone actually worked like any other job, they wouldn’t need 70 percent of the lazy garbage they have.
    Seriously, a news station should investigate Amtrak, and I would help out in a heart beat.
    Another government catastophe.

  • HStreetLandlord

    Yeah, I don’t believe a word of what you wrote. FOH!

  • Michael Klatsky

    The NEC should be severed and given to the 8 states and D.C. that pooled the resources and funding to hire the FRA to do the NEC Future study.

  • workerbee

    Good for you FOH! back at ya

  • Nathanael

    Big question: *where* did you work for Amtrak? I’ve heard some really bad things about one or two of the locations, whereas I’ve heard good things about most of the other locations. I want to see if your location matches up with what I’ve heard before.

  • workerbee

    The Windy City. We call it Naptrak.

  • Nathanael

    Ha! Exactly as I expected. I’ve heard *horrible* things about Amtrak’s Chicago yard operations specifically.

    Apparently Los Angeles, Seattle, and DC are all just fine, and Sunnyside (NY) is mostly OK, but Chicago is awful.

  • Nathanael

    If you can put some serious media heat on the Chicago yard operations, I suspect Amtrak’s top management would thank you.

    If the investigation makes clear that the Chicago behavior is NOT the same as what’s going on at the other locations, the union members at the other locations will probably be willing to gang up against the Chicago slugs, too.

  • workerbee

    I am not sure why a news crew hasn’t investigated this yet, but they should. Its also hard to get in, or close because of security. The workers motto is to make management so mad and look bad that they get fired every two or three years. They don’t want anyone changing their ways and let it be known to all the workers. They do have a few hard working people and foreman with senority, but I can count them on one hand.

  • rckk

    I also worked for Amtrak, but lasted even less than a year. My “problem” was that I refused to falsify reports. I was not going to do that and that made me a problem for some of my co-workers. There was nothing more to discuss about it, so I left the job but retained my integrity. It is sad that there are people who would work for Amtrak and try to make it a better company, but I suspect are often deterred from working there because of a culture of corruption. When I left, I was put down as re-hireable, but I don’t believe that I could ever trust the company enough to go back with them. I really wanted to do what I could do to help the company become better.

  • ctcushing

    Overall, Amtrak fares are too high for what they deliver. On longer trips it just cannot compete with either Air travel or in most cases Buses.

    Just did a random search for one way train travel from NYC to Jacksonville, FL. One month out. On Amtrak price is $134 and takes 20 hours. Flying on Southwest, flight is $86 and takes under 5 hours.

    Flying is a hassle to be sure, but so is sitting in coach on a train for 20 hours.

    the Northeast Corridor is the only area where Amtrak can reasonably compete on service and price. Boston/New York/Phillidelphia/DC route makes perfect sense for the time/convenience/demand factor. Nowhere else can the operation break even due to lack of demand and/or price.

    High speed rail (like maglev) would be a game changer, but I don’t realistically see that happening in this country given the construction costs.

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