Rahall, Brown Say Dems Must Be Consulted on Rail Privatization
The top Democrats with jurisdiction over rail in the House are asking for a little old-time bipartisan cooperation in the Transportation Committee. They’re complaining that Republicans have shut them out of the process on one of the most important, game-changing proposals to come down the pike in a while: taking the Northeast Corridor away from Amtrak and putting it in private hands.
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), ranking member on the House Transportation Committee, and Rep. Corinne Brown (D-FL), ranking member on the Subcommittee on Railroads, sent a letter [PDF] requesting that the committee hold a full legislative hearing on the bill. Rahall yesterday called the proposal a “death knell for passenger rail.”
The letter says:
This legislation, which you state makes sweeping changes to the national passenger rail system, has not been shared with Democratic Members or staff; we have not been briefed on the proposal; and it is not yet available for public review. We believe there should be an opportunity to have a formal discussion on this legislation that would allow all interested and affected parties to participate before moving it through the Committee process.
The text of the draft bill has since been made available on the T&I committee website [PDF], as well as a section-by-section analysis [PDF], although there is no guarantee that the language in the draft is the language that will be in the final bill. The committee held a briefing yesterday for the public, but there was no chance for other lawmakers to comment, ask questions, or invite witnesses, as they would in a hearing. The next time the committee is scheduled to consider the legislation is next Wednesday – the day after the final bill is introduced – when the committee will vote on it.
Congressional insiders say members of the majority party usually share legislation with members of the minority, especially when it involves such dramatic changes to current law. Some say such a shutout is “unheard of.” The lack of consultation is especially notable since the Transportation Committee has historically been characterized by high levels of cooperation across the aisle.
Meanwhile, the first section of the GOP bill contains some language sure to raise a few eyebrows. It directs Amtrak to redeem all stock in the company and use eminent domain to acquire the stocks, if necessary. It’s fascinating that in order to privatize the corridor, the GOP plans to nationalize a private, for-profit corporation, forcibly seizing stock from private shareholders, if necessary. Proposals like that could alienate some conservative and libertarian allies who otherwise would like to see more private participation in rail.