It became clear yesterday that congressional Republicans came up with one talking point in response to the deadly Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia: “human error.”
The point, of course, is obvious. If the Amtrak 188 tragedy was the result of a person making a mistake, then there’s no need for federal policymakers to act, there’s no need for Congress to make additional investments in infrastructure, and there’s no need for Republicans to be embarrassed by slashing Amtrak’s budget just hours after the accident.
This morning, as National Journal noted, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) didn’t hold back on this point.
Boehner downright dismissed claims that underfunding for the rail system was responsible for the derailment in Philadelphia that killed at least seven people and injured 200 on Tuesday night.“Are you really gonna ask such a stupid question?” Boehner said during his Thursday morning press conference when a reporter began to ask about Democratic concerns that Amtrak was underfunded because of Republicans. “They started this yesterday: ‘It’s all about funding. It’s all about funding.’ Well, obviously it is not about funding. The train was going twice the speed limit.”
House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sounded a similar note on Fox News this morning, dismissing those who want to increase “the size of government programs,” all in response to an accident he said was “human error.”
The congressman added that he hopes “people won’t seize on political opportunities out of tragedies like this” to spend more money.
Let’s set the record straight.
Just on a surface level, even without consideration of the tragedy in Philadelphia, U.S. investment in infrastructure has become a national embarrassment. The United States used to lead the world in infrastructure innovation and development, and the more Republicans decided public investment in “government programs” is necessarily bad, the more other countries have surpassed us.
But specifically on this week’s Amtrak disaster, to dismiss this as nothing more than a tragic case of “human error” is to overlook the relevant details.
According to Boehner, “obviously it is not about funding.” In reality, it’s also obvious that a Positive Train Control system could have prevented the accident.
It’s equally obvious that PTC is not free. If Congress wanted to invest in the system, it could have. Indeed, it can make those investments now. At least for now, however, Boehner and his party don’t see it as a priority.
This might make the Speaker uncomfortable, but it’s anything but “a stupid question.”