House budget votes place Amtrak in the crosshairs

July 24, 2023

While Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) dollars are being allocated by the U.S. Department of Transportation to distribute to commuter and passenger rail projects as well as to transit agencies recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. House Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and related agencies (THUD) subcommittee decided to pull $6.6 billion from the whole operation.

Among the lowlights: the proposed 2024 budget spending bill passed by the subcommittee slashes funding for Amtrak by 64%, effectively blowing a hole in a plan to help passenger rail service in the country expand.

If enacted, this bill would not only nullify the progress being made, but it would also lead to large-scale furloughs throughout the industry.  Amtrak, among other commuter and passenger rail agencies, would see the funds available to them rolled back to levels of a decade ago. Obviously, the cut in staffing levels in passenger and commuter rail is devastating to our transit members, but it also will tear a significant hole in the solvency of the Railroad Retirement Board reserves, so freight railroaders have a vested interest in this development that might not be obvious as the direct peril our brothers and sisters in passenger service face.

This 2013 funding level would not go well for our SMART-TD rail members dealing with 2024 levels of inflation and cost-of-living concerns, nor would it serve to improve Amtrak’s recovery of ridership or advance the enthusiastic plans announced for new regional services in both urban and rural areas.

As railroaders, we know that nothing is true until it is. But to begin projects nationwide such as expanding Amtrak from Chicago to Minneapolis, and resurrecting both the Gulf Coast Line and the Northern Lights Express only to cut the following budget to the bone is nonsense.

If the mission the conservative THUD subcommittee is trying to accomplish is one of fiscal responsibility, then building new tracks and then choking off funds to pay the men and women needed to run them is a terrible way to accomplish it. They are rendering the money already being spent to be useless with no Return On Investment at all. Apparently, this Congress has either forgotten or has conveniently chosen to ignore Article 1 in the United States Constitution better known as the Commerce Clause. If they took a group field trip down the street from the Capitol building to the National Archives, they could read it for themselves that they as a legislative body are bound by the constitution to promote and ensure the nation’s transportation needs are in fact met. Once again, the importance of putting those who support us and our causes into office has come to the surface.

SMART-TD is not in the business of endorsing one political party or the other. We consistently support the people who are on the right side of transportation issues with a blind eye to their party designation.  With that being said, we absolutely need to pay attention to trends in the halls of Congress, and you as our members absolutely deserve to know who has your back when they vote on matters that affect your lives, job security, and pension. For that reason, it was SMART-TD’s intention to provide you with a scorecard of the subcommittee members and how they voted on this appropriations bill.  

Unfortunately, for those of us who want to be informed and want the ability to hold people in power to account, the subcommittee’s Republican chair chose to conduct the vote of this massive appropriations bill via voice vote. This ensured that those politicians who favored cutting our collective throats are able to do so with anonymity.

The good news is that on Tuesday, July 18th, the full House Appropriations Committee took a vote on the THUD budget and this smoke screen wasn’t available.

SMART-TD had a close eye on the developments as this legislation works its way through the process and to keep you informed of who is actively voting against your best interest. We now have an accurate scorecard of the Appropriations vote.  In an effort to track those who are with us and who are against us, SMART-TD’s National Legislative Department is providing our members this breakdown of the 34-27 vote the committee made to gut passenger rail and subsequently the pension fund of all of us who pay into the RRB.

Mr. Robert Aderholt R- Alabama 04Ms. Kay Granger R-Texas 12
Mr. Mark Amodei R-Nevada 02Mr. Michael Guest R-Mississippi 03
Mrs. Stephanie Bice R-Oklahoma 05Dr. Andy Harris R-Maryland 01
Mr. Ken Calvert R-California 41Mrs. Ashley Hinson R-Iowa 02
Mr. Jerry Carl R-Alabama 01Mr. David Joyce R-Ohio 14
Mr. John Carter R-Texas 31Mr. Jake Laturner R-Kansas 02
Mr. Juan Ciscomani R-Arizona 06Ms. Julia Letlow R-Louisiana 05
Mr. Ben Cline R-Virginia 06Mr. John Moolenaar R-Michigan 02
Mr. Michael Cloud R-Texas 27  Mr. Dan Newhouse R-Washington 04
Mr. Andrew Clyde R-Georgia 09Mr. Gary Reschenthaler R-Pennsylvania 14
Mr. Tom Cole R-Oklahoma 04   Mr. Harold Rogers R-Kentucky 05
Mr. Mario Diaz-Balart R-Florida 26Mr. John Rutherford R-Florida 05
Mr. Jake Ellzey R-Texas 06Mr. Michael Simpson R-Idaho 02
Mr. Chuck Fleischmann R-Tennessee 03Mr. Chris Stewart R-Utah 02
Mr. Scott Franklin R-Florida 18Mr. David Valado R-California 22
Mr. Mike Garcia R-California 27Mr. Steve Womack R-Arkansas 03
Mr. Tony Gonzales R-Texas 23Mr. Ryan Zinke R-Montana 01
These members of the House Appropriations Committee voted against Amtrak and the interests of SMART railroad members.

What SMART-TD members absolutely need to do in addition to keeping tabs on which members support our jobs when we enter the ballot box, is that we need to act quickly to reach out to our Congressional members now since this bill has passed committee and is heading to the House floor. Please send your representative a message that there is a lot on the line with this budget package for you and your family and that you will remember his/her vote on this important matter while deciding whether to support them in the future!

With intervention from our SMART-TD membership, Congress will hopefully do what is right by transportation workers and the U.S. economy. We need to help them realize that we don’t want a network of abandoned tracks and mothballed Amtrak equipment parked around the country. We want to keep the nation moving forward. Partisan politics have no place in the transportation industry and the policies of this committee are destined to lead us nowhere like the unfinished tracks the THUD committee seeks to leave in its wake.