• House Passes Passenger Rail Bill
  • March 19, 2015
  • Law Firm: McDonald Hopkins LLC - Cleveland Office
  • A larger Republican majority hasn't made Speaker John Boehner's job any easier. Despite the larger numbers of Republicans in the House, the Speaker is increasingly finding himself relying on Democrats to pass legislation. This week's Passenger Rail bill was just the latest example.

    The House passed the legislation on Wednesday by a wide 316 to 101 vote, but all 101 no votes came from GOPers. Indeed, the measure -which provides nearly $8 billion in funding for Amtrak - would have failed without Democratic support.

    It's not just Tea Party insurgents who can no longer be reliably counted on by leadership. In the Passenger Rail vote, eight committee chairmen opposed the measure: Small Business Chairman Steve Chabot (Ohio), Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway (Texas), House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (Texas), Veterans' Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (Fla.), Budget Chairman Tom Price (Ga.), Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (Calif.), and Rules Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas).

    Republicans were lobbied to oppose the bill by interest groups likes Heritage Action, which key-voted the measure. Heritage Action said the reforms in the bill, which were touted by Republicans, were "suspect" and that the overall funding number for Amtrak would increase - something the group opposes.

    The Senate is yet to consider the bill, which President Obama has said he supports and would sign if it reaches his desk.

    The legislation would provide roughly $1.7 billion per year over the next four years for passenger rail. Of that, roughly $982 million per year would be for Amtrak's national network, $470 million per year would be for the Northeast corridor, and sets aside another $300 million per year for construction.

    Among the reforms included in the House bill is a provision that would require revenue generated by trips in the Northeast to be used only for improvements in the popular corridor. The provision could force Amtrak to streamline its longer routes elsewhere in the country.

    Republican opposition to funding for Amtrak is nothing new. House conservatives have long pushed to privatize Amtrak, particularly the company's popular and profitable Northeast corridor.

    Another provision of the bill would direct Amtrak to start a pilot program allowing passengers to bring cats and dogs on trains.

    Under the program, Amtrak would designate at least one passenger car on trains where pets could be transported in kennels stowed in compliance with size requirements for carry-on luggage. Passengers would have to pay a fee in order to bring their pets aboard.