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Such a Stupid Question': John Boehner Rejects Link Between Amtrak Crash, Funding Levels

"Obviously, it's not about funding."

In this Dec. 11, 2014 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Image source: AP/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday rejected Democratic arguments that this week's Amtrak derailing in Pennsylvania shows that the rail service needs more federal funding, and said it's "stupid" to even ask questions about this.

"Are you really going to ask such a stupid question?" when asked by a reporter.

Boehner said Democrats all week have argued that the crash is "all about funding," despite evidence that the train was simply going too fast.

"Obviously, it's not about funding," he said. "The train was going twice the speed limit. Adequate funds were there, no money's been cut from rail safety, and the House passed a bill earlier this spring to reauthorize Amtrak and authorize a lot of these programs."

Just hours after the crash, Democrats were arguing in a House hearing that more infrastructure funding was needed, and tried a few times to boost Amtrak funding in a spending bill. Republicans rejected that funding, and said it would go beyond pre-negotiated funding caps.

One Republican, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), accused Democrats of using the accident to argue for something they always argue for — more money.

"You have no idea what caused this accident," he said. "Don't use this tragedy in that way, it was beneath you."

While Republicans have argued for years that Amtrak is an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) indicated to reporters just before Boehner spoke that she has no idea why Republicans have a problem with the government-owned rail service.

"This is about our economy, it's about our safety, it's about the quality of life, clean air," she said. "It's so important for us to do, and one manifestation of that infrastructure that does all those things, is mass transit, is Amtrak."

"People to and from work, saving time, quality of life, cleaning the air and the rest," she added. "And for some reason, it has just been opposed by some, not all, by some in the Republican Party."

A March report from the conservative Manhattan Institute said Amtrak has cost taxpayers about $45 billion a year for the last 44 years, and has lost between $227 million and $458 million each year for the last six years.

"Despite generous taxpayer subsidies, Amtrak has run operating losses every year since it began operating in 1971," the report said.

Members of Congress have been citing losses from food service for years now. Last year, the New York Times reported that Amtrak employees were likely stealing as much as $7 million in food per year.

The Manhattan Institute noted that in 2012, a House hearing revealed that when Amtrak sells a $9 hamburger, it actually costs $16 to get that hamburger to the commuter — a $7 loss per burger.

— This story was updated to correct Boehner's quote, which was "Are you really going to ask such a stupid question?"

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