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.

Share Buybacks Soar to Record $1 Trillion

istockphoto
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Although there may be plenty of things in the GOP tax bill to complain about, critics can’t say it didn’t work – at least as far as stock buybacks go. TrimTabs Investment Research said Monday that U.S. companies have now announced $1 trillion in share buybacks in 2018, surpassing the record of $781 billion set in 2015. "It's no coincidence," said TrimTabs' David Santschi. "A lot of the buybacks are because of the tax law. Companies have more cash to pump up the stock price."

Chart of the Day: Deficits Rising

By The Fiscal Times Staff

Budget deficits normally rise during recessions and fall when the economy is growing, but that’s not the case today. Deficits are rising sharply despite robust economic growth, increasing from $666 billion in 2017 to an estimated $970 billion in 2019, with $1 trillion annual deficits expected for years after that.

As the deficit hawks at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget point out in a blog post Thursday, “the deficit has never been this high when the economy was this strong … And never in modern U.S. history have deficits been so high outside of a war or recession (or their aftermath).” The chart above shows just how unusual the current deficit path is when measured as a percentage of GDP.

4.2 Million Uninsured People Could Get Free Obamacare Plans

FILE PHOTO: A sign on an insurance store advertises Obamacare in San Ysidro
Mike Blake
By Michael Rainey

About 4.2 million uninsured people could sign up for a bronze-level Obamacare health plan and pay nothing for it after tax credits are applied, the Kaiser Family Foundation said Tuesday. That means that 27 percent of the country’s 15.9 million uninsured people could get covered for free. The chart below breaks down the eligible population by state. 

Takedown of the Day: Ezra Klein on Paul Ryan's Legacy of Debt

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on Capitol Hill in Washington
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Vox’s Ezra Klein says that retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan’s legacy can be summed up in one number: $343 billion. “That’s the increase between the deficit for fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2018— that is, the difference between the fiscal year before Ryan became speaker of the House and the fiscal year in which he retired.”

Klein writes that Ryan’s choices while in office — especially the 2017 tax cuts and the $1.3 trillion spending bill he helped pass and the expansion of the earned income tax credit he talked up but never acted on — should be what define his legacy:

“[N]ow, as Ryan prepares to leave Congress, it is clear that his critics were correct and a credulous Washington press corps — including me — that took him at his word was wrong. In the trillions of long-term debt he racked up as speaker, in the anti-poverty proposals he promised but never passed, and in the many lies he told to sell unpopular policies, Ryan proved as much a practitioner of post-truth politics as Donald Trump. …

“Ultimately, Ryan put himself forward as a test of a simple, but important, proposition: Is fiscal responsibility something Republicans believe in or something they simply weaponize against Democrats to win back power so they can pass tax cuts and defense spending? Over the past three years, he provided a clear answer. That is his legacy, and it will haunt his successors.”

Read Klein’s full piece here.