Representative Zinke Votes to End Amtrak Funding for Montana

Montana’s Congressman Ryan Zinke voted yesterday in the House “to end all federal assistance for Amtrak,” representing the interests of right wing groups like the TEA Party’s FreedomWorks and the reactionary Club for Growth, instead of the interests of thousands of Montanans who depend on Amtrak services.

In typically Zinke fashion, though, it takes a little sorting out to understand the flip flops underlying his vote. When Zinke was called out today by the Montana AFL-CIO, his Communications Director Heather Swift claimed that the Congressman had voted for Amtrak funding, as this Twitter exchange demonstrates:

The vote in question was HR 749, the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act. While the bill was hardly a boon to Amtrak’s expensive long-range services like the Empire Builder, it did offer funding to continue Amtrak passenger service, and Zinke did vote for it.

But before voting for the final bill, Zinke actually voted to end all federal subsidies for the program, which would effectively kill Amtrak. Zinke voted YES on Amendment No. 6—eliminating all federal assistance for Amtrak. The first portion of this video is the speech by the amendment’s proponent, calling for an end to federal subsidies.

Despite Zinke’s vote, the amendment failed 147-272, with 89 Republicans joining all 183 Democrats to oppose it. The amendment was also opposed by Republican Representatives from North Dakota (Cramer) and Washington (Newhouse and Reichart), who represent states whose citizens depend on the Empire Builder.

So why would Represenative Zinke vote to end all funding for Amtrak before turning around to vote for a bipartisan bill that lets it limp along for a few more, underfunded years? Because he’s more interested in appeasing rightwing interest groups than in protecting his constituents. Freedomworks, a TEA Party Astroturf group, calls “ending federal subsidies for Amtrak” a key vote  calling Amtrak service a “boondoggle for decades.” The Club for Growth also calls voting against Amtrak a key vote.

Zinke, it seems, is hoping that the credulous back in Montana and his former hometown of Whitefish will only hear that he voted to vote for Amtrak—not that he first voted to end the program’s federal subsidies. That his Communications Director is already trying to spin the vote illustrates the strategy to lie to Montanans about the Congressman’s real priorities—which are centered around pleasing right wing groups who score political candidates on ideological purity tests.

That Zinke is a dishonest flip-flopper can’t be a surprise to anyone who follows Montana politics, but flip flopping in the same afternoon has to be a new record for dishonesty, and voting against the interests of his home town, his state, and its citizens is a new low for a Congressman who seems only interested in himself.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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