— -- House Speaker John Boehner erupted into incredulity today when a reporter attempted to ask him about federal spending for Amtrak.
When Ginger Gibson, senior political writer at the International Business Times, attempted to ask Boehner about criticism from Democrats that Amtrak was not funded well enough, Boehner, R-Ohio, cut her off.
“Are you really going to ask such a stupid question?!” Boehner asked in apparent disbelief.
“Listen, you know they started this yesterday. ‘It’s all about funding. It’s all about funding,’” Boehner said, apparently mocking complaints by congressional Democrats. “Well, obviously it’s not about funding. The train was going twice the speed limit!”
Boehner further contended that funding for Amtrak is “adequate” and added that “no money has been cut from rail safety.”
“It’s hard for me to imagine that people take the bait on some of the nonsense that gets spewed around here,” he said, abruptly ending his news conference.
On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee passed a bill to reduce grants to Amtrak in fiscal year 2016 to more than $250 million below spending levels for fiscal year 2015. Proponents of the measure say the cuts are made not to Federal Railroad Administration operating costs or safety, but rather “entirely” to Amtrak capital -- such as infrastructure improvements.
Moments before Boehner’s news conference, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., began her own news conference by calling Tuesday night’s derailment outside Philadelphia “a constant reminder that we must strengthen the confidence and safety in our infrastructure.”
“In order to have safety in infrastructure, you have to have strong infrastructure,” Pelosi said, knocking Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee for blocking Democratic efforts to bolster funding for Amtrak to meet levels requested by the president in his budget request.
“Now we are wiser about the need and the urgency and, hopefully, we can be bipartisan in how we come together,” she added.
Pelosi would not say whether $1.3 billion appropriated for Amtrak that she helped usher through Congress in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is explicitly insufficient, but contended “Republicans have been very much against Amtrak for a long time.”
“I think that, obviously, these needs are big,” Pelosi said. “This is about our economy. It’s about our safety. It’s about quality of life, clean air. It’s so important for us to do.”
The full House and Senate must now consider the bill before current funding runs out at the end of September.