Monday, November 14, 2005
The War On Amtrak
Amtrak's David Gunn has, in the face of strong Grover-Norquist-style Republican opposition determined to starve to death the country's only nationwide commuter rail system, done a stellar job of keeping Amtrak running despite having next to no money with which to do so. Of course, this means that he had to be fired. However, it looks like Amtrak's enemies -- many of which are on the very board which is supposed to oversee Amtrak and take care of it -- may have finally shot themselves in both feet:
WASHINGTON — The vote last week by the Amtrak board of directors to fire the railroad's president, David L. Gunn, has created intense interest in Congress in the board itself, which some legal experts say has been operating for years using untested legal principles, according to a story in the New York Times. The concerns come as the board faces new questions about its future. For the second time in recent history, it may soon lack a quorum. Only 4 of the board's 7 seats are filled, and some directors who have served recently may not have been properly appointed under a 1997 law meant to reform the railroad, said Representative Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio), chairman of the railroad subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. In addition, one of the railroad's shareholders believes that changes the board is making in Amtrak's structure cannot be completed without consultation with the holders of common stock. [...] Of the 4 current board members, only Laney was confirmed by the Senate for the job. Two of the appointees, Enrique Sosa and Floyd Hall, were recess appointments put in place by President Bush under Article 2 of the Constitution, which allows the president to name people to fill vacancies that occur when Congress is out of session. Such appointees serve only until the end of the Congressional session, meaning that Sosa's and Hall's terms will end when the current session of Congress ends in a few weeks. A deeper problem may be that Amtrak's enabling legislation specifies that it is not a government agency, and the legality of recess appointments to Amtrak has not been tested in court, legal experts say. [...] All 4 board members are Bush loyalists, but they are not popular with Amtrak supporters in Congress. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), said on Wednesday that before Sosa was appointed to the board, he said he had never ridden an Amtrak train.If I had my druthers, I'd keep Gunn, dump the board of directors, and put a windfall-profits tax on the oil companies, with the proceeds going to Amtrak. But that's just me.
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