On January 16, Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Trent Lott (R-MS) introduced S. 294, a bill that would authorize $11.4 billion for Amtrak over six years. The bill is part of a strategic overhaul plan that would provide individual states with grants to improve rail infrastructure. The measure would authorize $3.3 billion in operating subsidies and $4.9 billion for capital grants, as well as programs to improve rail security and implement operational changes, including establishing a more transparent financial accounting system. The senators plan an amendment to authorize the Transportation Secretary to issue $1.3 billion a year in rail bonds. This change would increase the package’s bottom line to $19.2 billion. This bill would direct the federal government to refinance Amtrak’s $3 billion debt. The bill is expected to begin to move in February. Measures involving rail and mass transit security may take priority over the Amtrak bill, but it’s a start in the right direction.
- 184, The Surface Transportation and Rail Security (STARS) Act of 2007, if passed, will provide hundreds of millions of dollars to Amtrak and other transit services to update and better secure transportation routes. The proposal calls for the widening and expansion of Amtrak tunnels in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Baltimore. These tunnels are used by business commuter trains as well as freight trains. Enlarging the size of the tunnels would allow larger freight cars to move through them and also make it easier for passengers and emergency crews to move through the tunnels in case of emergency.
Railroad Retirement Fairness Act
On January 22, Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI) introduced HR 626, the Railroad Retirement Fairness Act. This is a bill to amend the Railroad Retirement Act of 1974 to provide that a current connection is not lost by an individual who is misled or not properly informed by the Railroad Retirement Board of the requirement for, and the circumstances resulting in the loss of, a current connection. The bill has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Medicare Prescription Drug Negotiation Act
On January 5, Representatives John Dingell (D-MI), Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), Charles Rangel (D-NY), and Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) introduced HR 4, the Medicare Prescription Drug Negotiation Act of 2007. This bill mandates that Medicare negotiate with drug companies for lower Part D drug prices and report back to Congress every six months, beginning June 1, 2007. The bill passed the House on January 12 and was forwarded to the Senate.