(Adds Boehner comments, details on funding debate)
By David Lawder
WASHINGTON, May 14 (Reuters) - The Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia revived concerns on Thursday about the crumbling infrastructure in the United States and Washington’s failure to address the problem, with U.S. House Speaker John Boehner lashing out at Democrats who linked the two.
Asked at a news conference about suggestions by some Democrats that Amtrak funding cuts were partly to blame for the train crash on Tuesday, Boehner said, “Are you really going to ask such a stupid question?”
He said Democrats were mistaken in trying to promote the idea the crash was “all about funding.” He said the passenger service’s safety programs were adequately funded.
“Obviously, it’s not about funding,” said the Republican leader.
“The train was going twice the speed limit. Adequate funds were there, no funding has been cut from rail safety and the House passed a bill earlier this spring to reauthorize Amtrak and authorize a lot of these programs.”
The Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved a $262 million cut in Amtrak’s capital investment programs as part of a $54 billion spending bill for transportation and housing programs.
Democrats seized on the crash that killed eight passengers and injured 200 others to press for more infrastructure funding.
“Spending on our infrastructure is now at its smallest share of GDP in the last 22 years,” Representative Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon said on the House floor on Thursday. “I implore this body. Let us take action before another tragic accident.”
Tensions on infrastructure funding were rising as a May 31 deadline approached to renew federal Highway Trust Fund spending authority for road, bridge and rail transit projects.
Both Democrats and Republicans say they favor a multiyear surface transportation bill, which would provide work to major construction companies such as Fluor Corp, construction equipment suppliers such as Caterpillar Inc and cement makers like Cemex
But Congress has made almost no progress in finding the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to replenish the dwindling fund. Members of both parties refuse to raise the gasoline tax, which is the fund’s main revenue source.
Boehner joined other lawmakers on Thursday in acknowledging only a short-term extension of the fund could be arranged by May 31. Some lawmakers pressed for only a two-month extension, while others want to extend transportation authority until the end of 2015. (Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Susan Heavey and Jeffrey Benkoe)