A Callous Congress



I wonder whether the voters who put rhose callous politicians in control of Congress feel shame and guilt in the aftermath of Tuesday’s horrendous Amtrak tragedy. I believe they should.

For, surely, those voters are indirectly guilty of causing the eight deaths (so far) and dozens of injuries resulting from the crash. As guilty as if they had mindlessly let that train speed off the tracks.

A vote is a precious privilege. It should be exercised responsibly. By electing politicians who disregard the dangers of an unsafe infrastructure, they have put unknown numbers of their fellow-citizens at risk.

In my view, it is futile to argue that they were not aware of the danger when they filled out their ballots. As responsible citizens they should know what the candidates on their ballots stand for.

Polls show that a majority of Americans favor funding the repair of America’s crumbling roads and bridges and the maintenance and construction of mass transit facilities – the kind of maintenance that would have prevented Tuesday’s grisly tragedy.

Yet a majority of America’s voters put a political party in power that opposes responsible funding of the nation’s infrastructure.

It is no secret that the Republicans who now control Congress  couldn’t care less about hungry children, the disabled, the aged – or any of their fellow-Americans who must suffer the consequences of their callous policies.  And, surely, it is no secret that these Republicans have repeatedly blocked the kind of funding that would have averted Tuesday’s horror.

Their objective is to slash the national budget and reduce taxes for the wealthy – regardless of the cost in human suffering.

As Senator Charles E. Schumer said in his rebuttal of Speaker John Boehner’s attempt to dodge the blame for the Amtrak crash:

Experts have made clear that Positive Train Control could have prevented the tragedy in Philadelphia.

(Positive Train Control is a system that monitors the speed of trains while they are in transit and can intervene automatically to brake the train if necessary. It was not operational where the crash occurred.)

Schumer added:

It is simply a fact that insufficient funding for Amtrak has delayed the installation of PTC, and to deny a connection between the accident and underfunding Amtrak is to deny reality.

Schumer is right, of course. It is “simply a fact” that every passenger railroad in America doesn’t have Positive Train Control because Congress will not approve the necessary funding. Here’s how the New York Times describes the political process:

In 2008, Congress ordered the installation of what are known as positive train control systems, which can detect an out-of-control, speeding train and automatically slow it down. But because lawmakers failed to provide the railroads access to the wireless frequencies required to make the system work, Amtrak was forced to negotiate for airwaves owned by private companies that are often used in mobile broadband…. But (officials said) the railroad struggled for four years to buy the rights to airwaves in the Northeast Corridor that would have allowed them to turn the system on.

It is also “simply a fact” that Denocrats were in control when Congress mandated the safety system. And it is “simply a fact” that a majority of America’s voters put Boehner’s party in control of Congress in subsequent elections – either not knowing or not caring about the likely consequences of doing so.

Click for more on the Amtrak crash.

Click for Amtrak’s explanation.

Click for Schumer on infrastructure funding.