Pet-Friendly Provision Propels Amtrak Bill Through House

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Peter Fricke Contributor
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Despite pressure from conservative groups, a majority of House Republicans voted in favor of a four-year funding bill for Amtrak, perhaps hoping to convince voters that they don’t hate puppies.

According to NPR, “The Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act passed on a vote of 316 to 101,” with 132 Republicans joining all 184 Democrats in supporting the measure. Further burnishing the bill’s bipartisan credentials, President Obama has expressed his support for it, as well.

The bill “keeps spending for Amtrak at nearly current levels—about $1.4 billion a year—for the next four years,” and includes several minor reforms intended to improve efficiency at the notoriously unprofitable railroad. (RELATED: Amtrak: Fraud, Waste, and Abuse are Long-Standing Problems)

Not everyone was pleased with the plan, though. Both Heritage Action and Club for Growth urged lawmakers to oppose the bill, claiming its supposed reforms are largely illusory.

One of the bill’s most touted reforms, for instance, is a provision that creates separate accounts for Amtrak’s profitable Northeast Corridor and its other, mostly unprofitable routes, which supporters say will prevent Amtrak from using those profits to subsidize the rest of the system.

Heritage, though, argues that, “the new accounting mechanisms do not fundamentally affect the way rail service is delivered,” and points out the provision includes “a transfer mechanism” that renders the separation essentially meaningless.

The bill’s supporters also proclaim that it will end Amtrak’s losses on food and beverage service, but Heritage retorts that, “The consequences for noncompliance under this new policy would not occur until after the bill’s funding authority expires.” As a result, “there is little incentive for Amtrak to make the necessary reforms to ensure that its food and beverage service does not continue to be a taxpayer liability.”

“The Obama administration isn’t 100 percent happy with it,” either, The Washington Post reports, but many believe that both sides are downplaying their qualms because the bill includes “a very popular program both Democrats and Republicans like: Allowing pets to ride the rails.” (RELATED: Amtrak to Allow Guns on Trains)

Republican Rep. Jeff Denham began championing the idea several years ago, after “learning that he couldn’t take his French bulldog, Lily, with him on the train,” and its contribution to the bill’s success shows that, even in a polarized political climate, “small animals are the great unifier.” (RELATED: GOP Senators: Why is Amtrak Giving ‘Writers’ Free Rides?)

In its key vote alert, Club for Growth asserts that while “most Republicans claim they want to end or greatly reform Amtrak … this bill doesn’t do that, even though it was drafted and supported by House GOP leaders.”

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