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Transportation, Housing And Urban Development, And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mrs. BACHMANN. Madam Chairman, the proposed amendment that I'm bringing before the body today removes $106 million from Amtrak funding, restoring it back to the fiscal year 2007 level, and it adds that amount to the Homeless Assistance Grants.

Madam Chairman, Amtrak has run a deficit for over $1 billion every year. It is now funded at $1.4 billion for fiscal year 2008 in the Democrats' THUD bill, an increase of $106 million over the fiscal year 2007 levels. It's $600 million over the President's request.

Much of this deficit stems from Amtrak's long-distance routes, which carry only 15 percent of Amtrak's passengers, but that creates 80 percent of its cash operating losses.

Although Congress has made several attempts at getting Amtrak to reform itself, these attempts have resulted in very little improvement, I'm afraid, and tax dollars are continuing to be wasted on a service that is used by only a very small fraction of our American population.

It just seems to me that rather than pouring money into this colossally losing investment, we should stop pouring good money after bad, and Congress ought to be funding programs that are proven to help people that are in need and deliver results. We need to help poor people. We shouldn't help poor programs. I think we should be saying no, Madam Chairman, to poor programs because we should not be saying no to poor, homeless people just to continue to prop up a bloated government bureaucracy.

One such program is the Homeless Assistance Grants program. It has been awarding competitive grants to cities, to counties, to nonprofits, to housing authorities to provide transitional and permanent housing for the homeless.

In Minnesota, we have some great programs. Grants have gone to Lutheran Social Services in Minnesota, the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, the Tubman Family Alliance, great groups. These have proven themselves to be very successful in housing programs in Minnesota.

The problem with Amtrak is not that rail is bad, but this program again has been running in the red. It's been bleeding, it's been hemorrhaging, and it needs transfusion, a big transfusion of over $1 billion in tax money every year. It's running in the red. We do not want to be owners of a loser of a program. It requires Federal assistance to cover these losses and the losses from their capital investment. Clearly, for all the years it's been in existence, Amtrak would not survive without this Federal funding.

In Minnesota, we have an old Lakota Indian proverb, and it says, if your horse is dead, get off. And the wisdom of our Native American is pretty clear, and I think that we should follow our Lakota elders when they have enough sense to dismount.

This bill would fund Amtrak again at $1.4 billion for fiscal year 2008. That's $106 million more than the 2007 level, $600 million over the President's request. $1 billion is worth a lot. If you fraction it out, it it's $1,000 a day every day, including Sundays, for 2,440 years. Even for government, that's a lot of money, and still after 35 years, Amtrak hasn't been able to get it right, Madam Chairman.

The Federal Government has provided $30 billion to Amtrak. On average, that's a Federal subsidy of over $210 per passenger per thousand miles that are traveled. It seems that the Federal Government can't even get people to ride Amtrak, so we almost pay them to ride the line. In fact, in 2005, the Sunset Limited route connected L.A. with Orlando. That route required a subsidy of $433 per passenger each way. That's on top of the round-trip fare of about $950 that each passenger paid. That's more than enough to buy a plane ticket for each passenger and save them a trip lasting 68 hours, but that's only if the trains run on time, and only 41 percent of the time do the trains run on time.

It gets worse, though, Madam Chairman. The passengers on sleeper cars are the most heavily subsidized. The average passenger in a sleeper car gets an additional $206 subsidy. That reaches an extra $358 per passenger depending on the route. So that means that the highest government subsidies go to passengers sitting in first class. We could be giving this money to homeless people, and that's our priority.


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