After the Amtrak Crash: Finding the Money to Fix Our Infrastructure

After the Amtrak Crash: Finding the Money to Fix Our Infrastructure

Officials survey the site of a derailed Amtrak train in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
REUTERS/Mike Segar
By Yuval Rosenberg

The Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia that left six people dead and dozens more injured has already prompted calls for increased infrastructure spending. "This one is a wake-up call," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. "We have got to get serious about investing in infrastructure."

There have been other wake-up calls before, and the dire need for infrastructure renewal isn’t news. Yet, as Politico’s Kathryn A. Wolfe reported, the deadly crash occurred just as a House panel was set to mark up a bill that would cut Amtrak’s funding for 2016 to $1.13 billion, or about $250 million less than the railroad service typically gets. (To be fair, it’s also not clear at this point what caused the horrific Amtrak derailment and whether infrastructure problems played a part or not — and the number of rail accidents each year has actually fallen significantly since 2006, according to Federal Railroad Administration data.)

Related: At Least 6 Die in Philadelphia Train Derailment, Scores Hurt

Even before the Amtrak tragedy, though, de Blasio and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, a Republican, along with some two dozen other mayors were scheduled to travel to Washington, D.C. today to press Congress for a long-term renewal of the federal transportation authorization bill. The current funding law is set to expire May 31.

Pretty much everyone agrees that it’s well past time for the country to repair and rebuild its dangerously dated bridges, roads, railways, water mains and other critical infrastructure. The hold-up has always been over how to fund it.

Here’s one suggestion: The U.S. has spent some $110 billion on rebuilding Afghanistan, including billions that can’t be accounted for or that the inspector general has found have been wasted. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the trillions in domestic infrastructure spending that some have called for. Still, clamping down on that waste in Afghanistan, and on other money being frittered away, might allow for some spending to be redirected to other necessary and more productive needs, like domestic infrastructure.

That’s not to suggest we must entirely abandon nation building abroad in order to rebuild this country. It’s just to point out that Congress should be able to find the money to address our national priorities, something it has miserably failed to do of late.

Chart of the Day: The Long Decline in Interest Rates

Wall Street slips, Dow posts biggest weekly loss of 2013
Reuters
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Are interest rates destined to move higher, increasing the cost of private and public debt? While many experts believe that higher rates are all but inevitable, historian Paul Schmelzing argues that today’s low-interest environment is consistent with a long-term trend stretching back 600 years.

The chart “shows a clear historical downtrend, with rates falling about 1% every 60 years to near zero today,” says Bloomberg’s Aaron Brown. “Rates do tend to revert to a mean, but that mean seems to be declining.”

Chart of the Day: Drug Price Plans Compared

By The Fiscal Times Staff

Lawmakers are considering three separate bills that are intended to reduce the cost of prescription drugs. Here’s an overview of the proposals, from a series of charts produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation this week. An interesting detail highlighted in another chart: 88% of voters – including 92% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans – want to give the government the power to negotiate prices with drug companies.

Increasing Number of Americans Delay Medical Care Due to Cost: Gallup

iStockphoto
By The Fiscal Times Staff

From Gallup: “A record 25% of Americans say they or a family member put off treatment for a serious medical condition in the past year because of the cost, up from 19% a year ago and the highest in Gallup's trend. Another 8% said they or a family member put off treatment for a less serious condition, bringing the total percentage of households delaying care due to costs to 33%, tying the high from 2014.”

Number of the Day: $213 Million

A security camera hangs near a corner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building in Washington
Jonathan Ernst
By The Fiscal Times Staff

That’s how much the private debt collection program at the IRS collected in the 2019 fiscal year. In the black for the second year in a row, the program cleared nearly $148 million after commissions and administrative costs.

The controversial program, which empowers private firms to go after delinquent taxpayers, began in 2004 and ran for five years before the IRS ended it following a review. It was restarted in 2015 and ran at a loss for the next two years.

Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who played a central role in establishing the program, said Monday that the net proceeds are currently being used to hire 200 special compliance personnel at the IRS.

US Deficit Up 12% to $342 Billion for First Two Months of Fiscal 2020: CBO

District of Columbia
By The Fiscal Times Staff

The federal budget deficit for October and November was $342 billion, up $36 billion or 12% from the same period last year, the Congressional Budget Office estimated on Monday. Revenues were up 3% while outlays rose by 6%, CBO said.