"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“This Is On Congress’ Head”: It’s Almost Like Our Political System Is Designed To Fail Our Infrastructure

Sometimes, congressional Republicans have an odd sense of timing. Just hours after the deadly derailment of Amtrak 188, GOP lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee took up transportation spending measures, voting to slash Amtrak’s budget, while also rejecting Democratic proposals to bolster infrastructure and train safety.

As the debate unfolded yesterday, things got a little ugly. Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) argued that Congress bore some responsibility for the tragic accident by failing to make the proper investments. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), incensed, responded, “You tied it directly to an accident and a tragedy and suggested because we hadn’t funded it that caused that accident and you have no idea what caused it – and that’s a shame.”

Soon after, Republicans on the Appropriations Committee went ahead and did exactly what they intended to do – cutting rail investment – as if the accident in Philadelphia hadn’t just happened the night before. For many conservatives, there’s no reason to connect the two – if the derailment was the result of human error, Congress and budgetary choices are irrelevant.

The truth is more complicated. The New York Times reports today on rail technology you probably heard Rachel talking about last night.

For the second time in two years, a passenger train traveling well above its speed limit has derailed, leaving a trail of death and injuries. And for the second time, existing technology that might have prevented the accident was missing.

Amtrak has installed the technology, known as positive train control, on parts of its rail network in the Northeast Corridor. But the technology, designed to automatically slow or stop a train to prevent accidents, was not available on a critical stretch of track in Philadelphia where Train No. 188 derailed on Tuesday night, killing at least seven and injuring more than 200.

Robert Sumwalt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, made things plain while talking to reporters yesterday afternoon: positive train control “is not installed for this area where the accident occurred, where the derailment occurred…. Based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred.”

Among the votes House Republicans cast yesterday? Voting down a Democratic measure to invest immediately in expanded use of positive train control.

If you missed Rachel’s segment on this last night, I hope you’ll take the time to check it out.

To briefly summarize, in late 2008, Congress actually approved the Rail Safety Improvement Act, which, among other things, required technological upgrades to the nation’s rail system, including mandates on the accident-avoiding positive train control, which can automatically slow trains down remotely.

But Congress also gave the entire industry all kinds of time: the deadline to extend positive train control to all major rail lines is the end of this year: December 31st, 2015. And even this is too soon for much of the industry, which has lobbied Congress to push the deadline to 2020. From last night’s segment:

“This is not a mystery and this is also not hard…. This is something we know how to do, and we’ve done it in patches, pieces of track here and there.

“We also know we need to do it. It’s no mystery here, because what we need to do is something that we need to do concerning our nation’s infrastructure, honestly as a nation we really just can’t be bothered to get stuff like this done. It’s almost like our political system is designed to fail our infrastructure.

“I mean, the people, American people, left, right and center, want infrastructure investment…. Politicians, however, don’t like voting for it…. We are a great nation that has allowed the world-class national infrastructure that our grandparents built and our parents handed down to us to erode and suffer and starve to the point that it is decrepit and deadly.

“This is a failure of governance. This is on Congress’ head.”

For more on this, David Leonhardt noted yesterday that federal investment in infrastructure is at a generational low, while Philip Bump added rail investment struggles to find political support at least in part because people in Republican districts generally don’t take trains.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 14, 2015

May 15, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Infrastructure, Transportation | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Seniors Take Note”: Republicans Effectively Confessed To Having Mislead Conservative Members Who Now Must Be Mollified

I’m not sure House Republicans realized how large an error they made by kidnapping and then releasing the debt limit earlier this year. By admitting their bluff, they effectively confessed to having misled conservative members, and those members needed to be mollified.

That created a new problem: How could they appease conservatives while lacking the power to satisfy any of their substantive demands? So they offered up grandiose symbolism: A raincheck on the brinksmanship (the current fight over the sequester) and a promise to pass a budget that would wipe out the deficit in 10 years if enacted.

But it’s not clear that they counted their votes, or considered the budget math when they made that promise.

“We are saying a 10-year balance — that’s tougher than the last [Paul] Ryan budget,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), a former Budget Committee member told Politico.

“There could be a significant number of Republicans that say, ‘I’m not going there because it would be too dramatic.’ I have said to my constituents, nobody is talking about changing Social Security and Medicare if you’re 55 years or over.’ I’ve been selling it for three or four years that way. So have many other members. Well, to balance in 10, that 55 years is going to move up to 58, 59, 60. It makes us look like we’re going back on what we were telling people when we were trying to sell this.

We haven’t seen Ryan’s latest budget, so we don’t know what precise ratio of funny math and concessions to reality he’ll use to make the numbers work. And until he’s written it he won’t offer many hints.

But we do know a couple things. First, given Republicans’ famous preference for never increasing taxes or cutting defense spending, we know that it’s probably impossible for them to draft a budget that balances in 10 years without eating into entitlement benefits for people older than 55. Second, per above, we know that GOP leaders promised conservatives a budget that balances over 10 years to win their support for increasing the debt limit. So either Ryan will produce a budget that relies on sleight of hand more than his previous budgets did, or he’ll have to admit that the GOP’s pledge to leave retirement programs untouched for people over 55 was neither sincere nor sustainable.

As Simpson’s quote suggests, that’ll make it harder for Republicans to pass a budget at all; and if they do, it’ll come at a potentially enormous cost with their voting base.


By: Brian Beutler, Talking Points Memo, TPM Editor’s Blog, February 15, 2013

February 18, 2013 Posted by | Medicare, Social Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


%d bloggers like this: