This was a vote on an amendment to the economic stimulus legislation, which would have deleted Amtrak funding. The economic stimulus legislation included an additional $800 million in funding for Amtrak, beyond the annual funding it had been receiving. Rep. Flake (R-AZ), who has been an active opponent of federal spending that he considers wasteful, offered an amendment to the economic stimulus legislation to remove the additional $800 million.
Flake argued against the additional funding on two grounds: The first was that the $800 million was what he described as a “subsidy for a program that continually does not work.” He noted that less than 1% of intercity travelers rely on Amtrak and said that its ridership has been consistently low. Flake added that, despite years of federal assistance, “(E)very time a passenger steps aboard an Amtrak train, the Federal taxpayer spends an average of $210 in subsidy for that passenger. . . Yet here we say Amtrak needs more.” His second ground for opposing the additional funding was that the money would not help stimulate the economy, and that there are many better ways to spend $800 million to stimulate it.
Rep. Olver (D-MA) led the opposition to the Flake Amendment. Olver pointed to the record-setting ridership levels Amtrak had been experiencing. He argued that many jobs “will be created immediately nationwide” by the additional funding, including those that repair infrastructure and renovate stations. Rep. Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee echoed those arguments. Oberstar noted that at least five billion dollars in "shovel ready" Amtrak projects had been identified. Rep. Brown (D-FL), the chair of the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Railroads, also opposed the amendment. In response to Rep. Flake’s reference to the fact that the taxpayer subsidizes every Amtrak rider, she argued that, in real economic terms, “ (T)here is no form of (U.S.) transportation that pays for itself, none whatsoever, whether we are talking about rail, airlines or cars, none of it. We subsidize all of it.”
Rep. Flake received only limited support from the Republican side. Rep. Mica (R-FL), the senior Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee actually argued against the amendment. He noted that there had been a lengthy bipartisan effort to reform Amtrak and said why Congress should not block ready to go rail projects that require funding.
There was limited activity regarding the amendment among interest groups. The, AFL-CIO did issue a statement in opposition to it.
The vote on the Flake Amendment was 116 ayes to 320 nays and it was defeated. All of the 116 “aye” votes were cast by Republicans. Sixty-one other Republicans joined all of the Democrats in voting “nay”. As a result, the $800 in additional Amtrak funding remained in the stimulus package.