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Republicans Propose Spending Cuts Targeting Amtrak, Transit Funding

12:58 PM EST on January 21, 2011

A new Republican proposal would eliminate federal subsidies to Amtrak; kill New Starts, the primary federal transit funding program; and make painful cuts to dozens of other federal programs. It’s a plan by the Republican Study Committee, which is trying to keep alive House Speaker John Boehner’s campaign pledge to reduce the budget by $100 million. Boehner himself has been backing off from the pledge, given the popularity of many of the programs the Study Committee is now proposing to axe.

Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is sworn in by House Speaker John Boehner Jan. 5, 2011. Jordan is sponsoring the Spending Reduction Act. Photo: ##http://www.investors.com/NewsAndAnalysis/Article/560463/201101201926/Slash-10-Year-Spending-By-25-Trillion-Conservative-GOP-Lawmakers-Propose-.htm##AP##
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According to a Committee press release, “Compared to current projections, the Spending Reduction Act would save taxpayers $2.5 trillion through 2021. It starts by keeping House Republicans’ pledge to take current spending back to 2008 levels and repeal unspent funds from the failed ‘stimulus.’ At the beginning of the next fiscal year on October 1, 2011, spending is further reduced to 2006 levels and frozen there for the next decade.”

The proposal would shift some spending, like Medicaid costs, to the states, which are even more cash-strapped than the federal government. Media attention is focusing on proposed cuts to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, USAID, and veterans’ programs. But the cuts to transportation are deep.

The FTA's New Starts program is, in its own words, “the federal government’s primary financial resource for supporting locally planned, implemented, and operated major transit capital investments.” SAFETEA-LU authorized $6.6 billion for the program through 2009, and the extension gave another $2 billion for last year. It funds commuter rail, light rail, heavy rail, bus rapid transit, streetcars, and ferries.

According to Bureau of Transportation Statistics contributor William Mallett, “Partly as a result of federal support, rail transit route mileage in the United States almost doubled between 1985 and 2008, and rail transit passenger trips and passenger miles grew by 66 percent and 73 percent, respectively.”

The Republican Study Committee would axe the entire program. Along with it, the entire $1.57 billion Amtrak subsidy would disappear. The high speed rail program, which the GOP has been publicly itching to gut, is also, predictably, on the chopping block. Lesser-known programs like the Appalachian Regional Commission, which includes transportation as one of its programs, would also lose $76 million in annual federal subsidies. The $150 million annual federal contribution toward Washington DCs transit authority, WMATA, would also be cut, despite the longstanding federal commitment to supporting the infrastructure, like the metro system, that keep the capital running.

The EnergyStar program, grants to states for weatherization, U.S. support for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: all gone.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is promising an up-or-down vote on the spending cuts. Though Democrats are generally trying to go along with much of the Republicans’ rhetoric of fiscal restraint, it’s unlikely the Senate will go along with the wholesale elimination of so many popular programs.

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