On CNN Friday morning, the House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) pushed back hard on a line of questioning about whether the Congress should be held accountable for what happened.
“I believe it’s shameless that we have colleagues trying to exploit a tragedy like this for funding,” Shuster said. Later in the interview he added, “This accident had nothing to do with money it had to do with a failure on either the operator’s part or the equipment’s part.”
On Thursday, a reporter asked House Speaker John Boehner about whether funding for Amtrak was inadequate.
“Are you really going to ask such a stupid question?” Boehner asked. “Listen: You know they [Democrats] started this yesterday. It’s all about funding. It’s all about funding. Well, obviously, it’s not about funding.”
And on Wednesday, during an appropriations vote on a transportation spending bill that cut Amtrak funding by about 18 percent, a GOP Rep. Mike Simpson (Idaho) accused Democrats of trying to politicize the accident when they offered two amendments to double the passenger rail’s company budget.
The federal government gives Amtrak a little more than $1 billion a year that just about covers its operating cost losses. The White House and Amtrak have asked for about double that amount for investments in capital projects like upgrades to the very old system and its equipment.
Republicans have long argued that the government should get out of the rail subsidizing business and hand the job over to private companies. But at least one former Republican thinks his party is going about the issue all wrong.
Former Senate majority leader Trent Lott, a rail enthusiast, told the Loop this week that infrastructure is one area where it’s worth investing.
“I think deficit spending is a bad idea but there are places where you shouldn’t spend and should spend,” Lott said in an interview. The accident “is an opportunity to stop and ask questions … I just think it’s a mistake to say I’m against everything.”