Legislative Update – September 2011

 

Amtrak Funding for FY 2012

 

In July, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) drafted a letter to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over Amtrak, requesting full funding ($2.2 billion) for Amtrak’s intercity passenger rail service. The letter, co-signed by 19 other senators (17 Democrat and 2 Independent), points out the continued rise in ridership that Amtrak has experienced in recent years, its importance to our nation’s transportation system by reducing congestion and easing dependence on foreign oil, and Amtrak’s success in meeting the deadlines imposed by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 to assess its future needs and return the Northeast Corridor to a state of good repair. To see the full text of the letter and the list of senators who signed it, go to http://standupfortrains.org/supporters/docs/Senate%20letter%20supporting%20Amtrak.pdf .

 

If your Senator has not yet signed on to this letter, please encourage them to do so. (Some may have signed on after the initial letter was drafted.) Protecting Amtrak and its 19,000 employees is essential to the continued solvency of the Railroad Retirement System.

 

Debt Reduction Committee Goes to Work

 

Congress returns to work this week (September 6), and the new bipartisan, 12-member “super committee,” formed as a result of the passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011 on August 2, will soon go to work to develop a plan to cut a minimum of $1.5 trillion out of the federal budget. It will be interesting to watch this process unfold as we have already witnessed in the recent drama and debate over the debt ceiling issue that bipartisan cooperation in Washington, D.C., is about as rare as hen’s teeth.

 

In the first stage of its determinations, the super committee members must cut $917 billion in discretionary spending over 10 years from Cabinet-level agencies and the thousands of programs they administer. If the committee does not agree by a 7-vote consensus, or if they do not obtain approval of the House and Senate, automatic cuts totaling $1.2 trillion will then be implemented across the board. That will include deep cuts in the military, as well as all three major entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The committee must develop their plan by November 23 and Congress must act on it by December 23. No amendments are allowed and Senate approval will take only 51 votes instead of the usual 60 needed to avoid a filibuster.

 

In the months ahead, leading into the 2012 elections, it is important that we all take notice of our own representatives’ record on crucial issues relative to future of Social Security, which in turns affects Railroad Retirement, as well as Medicare and other entitlement programs. We must make sure that they understand the importance of creating jobs in this country and that fully funding Amtrak will enable it to keep its 19,000 employees working, rather than adding them to the lists of unemployed. We must also make sure that they understand our concerns for the safety of our railroad employees and the public at large. Railroading is a unique industry and many do not have a clue as to how it works. I remember how surprised I was when I was first introduced to the intricacies of railroad life and learned for the first time that trains are traveling in both directions on the same track. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I had really never thought about it before that time. Many who are serving in Congress are newly elected and may not understand the railroad industry. It’s our job to educate them, so don’t be shy… please speak up and let them know where we stand on the issues!

 

Railroad Medicare

 

Did you know that railroad retirees have their own Medicare plan, administered by Palmetto GBA Railroad Medicare Part B? I was not aware of this until I heard it at a recent presentation on Railroad Retirement at the IWC in San Luis Obispo, California. Palmetto, contracted by the Railroad Retirement Board, has been offering these services in conjunction with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for four decades. To find out more, go to: http://www.palmettogba.com/palmetto/providers.nsf/DocsCatHome/Railroad%20Medicare