Rep. John Mica called Amtrak a "third world rail system...run in a Soviet-style operation" this morning on CNN. Yes, you read that right. A member of the federal government called his own government's management of our passenger rail system in this country a "Soviet-style operation."
"There's no question the United States has a third-world rail system. It's a monopoly run in a Soviet-style operation. Amtrak," Mica added.
Republicans have long looked to Amtrak as a focus of its efforts to cut domestic spending broadly, and many see cutting funding for the train system as a bid to privatize it. On Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the New York-bound train crashed, the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee voted to reduce grants to Amtrak by $252 million -- a drop of about 15% from last year's level.
Echoing Shuster's comments earlier on CNN's "New Day," Mica argued that Amtrak had enough money, but "squanders" it. He said that Amtrak has spent their funds on bonuses for executives and a losing foodservice program instead of necessary improvements to keep the trains running on time.
"It's not how much money you spend, it's where you spend the money — and we're spending billions" on the nation's railway system, he said.
The solution, according to Mica — a former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and an outspoken proponent of Amtrak privatization — would be to allow for more competition from the private sector, which would "provide good, efficient service at reasonable cost so we don't have to squander more taxpayer money in the Amtrak pit."
"Many people don't know what they're talking about" when they say Republicans are hurting the rail system by pushing cuts, Mica said. "We're trying to do responsible things with taxpayers' money."
No, they're not. Just like they did with the US Postal Service, they're trying to destroy Amtrak in order to privatize it so it can be a privately-held monopoly. What Mica fails to mention in his disingenuous and inflammatory remarks is that railways aren't like airways, where you can crowd them with lots of private airlines at will. Railways are finite -- there's a limited number of them -- so privatizing them wouldn't change the number of trains on them, but it would fatten the wallets of future railroad barons, for sure.
I realize history isn't a Republican priority, but we are just not going to go back to the days when railroad barons were the ones who tanked our economy instead of bankers. So reality here is that Rep. John Mica and the other servants of profiteers need to step up and govern.
I love trains and train travel, especially on Amtrak. It's been a real passion of mine since I was a kid, so this slap at Amtrak felt almost personal to me.
Republicans, on the other hand, do not love Amtrak and I don't really know how they feel about train travel. They don't love Amtrak because they see it as another profit center for their donors, and they love their donors more than they love anything else -- except maybe money.
Mica's comments were the usual GOP talking points, but they highlight the moral and fiscal bankruptcy of Republican thinking. Rather than taking some responsibility for cutting Amtrak to the bare bones, they frame it in Cold War terms in order to deny their own role in the tragedies that follow neglect.