Biden: Both a Rider and 'Champion' of Amtrak
By now you've probably heard that Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), Barack Obama's vice-presidential pick, is such a homebody and all-around anti-D.C. guy that he rides Amtrak back and forth to Delaware every day when Congress is in session. But Biden isn't just one of the passenger rail system's most famous commuters, he is also one of its biggest supporters in the Senate.
"He's right up there," said David Johnson, deputy director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. "I'd say in the top 5 [in the Senate] for sure. I can definitely say he's the biggest user."
Amtrak is critical to Delaware's economy -- the state is currently the only one in the nation with no commercial air service -- so all three of its members in Congress are big backers of government funding for rail. Fellow Delaware Sen. Tom Carper (D) may actually play a bigger legislative role than Biden, since Carper serves on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. But Biden has certainly done enough advocacy to win the hearts of the pro-Amtrak community, even earning a "Champion of the Rails" award from Amtrak's president in 2001.
"Senator Biden's voting record is very clear in support of Amtrak," Johnson said. "Both his votes and his words have backed that up over the years, and we are certainly pleased that he was selected to be the vice presidential candidate."
Biden even has a family connection to Amtrak. As Capitol Briefing wrote in today's Washington Post, the vice presidential pick's older son, Beau Biden, is the Delaware state attorney general who some view as a potential inheritor of his father's Senate seat. But his younger son, Hunter Biden, is a lobbyist and the vice chairman of Amtrak's Board of Directors, having been nominated to a five-year term in the post by President Bush in 2006.
Papa Biden is an original co-sponsor of the Amtrak reauthorization bill, known as the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007, versions of which have passed both chambers and are now awaiting a conference committee. Biden is also a regular signatory to letters calling for increased funding for the service, which is always a target for cuts by conservatives and other critics (including John McCain).
Johnson warned that an Obama-Biden victory wouldn't necessarily translate into an avalanche of federal funds for Amtrak, pointing out that Al Gore was a big booster of passenger rail when he was in Congress, "and yet some of the biggest cuts in service came during the Clinton-Gore administration." So Amtrak fans won't be counting on a bright new dawn even if Biden wins the vice presidency.
"As Jerry Maguire said, 'Show me the money,'" Johnson said.
Speaking of money, let's get back to Biden's commute for a moment. As Capitol Briefing laments whenever he has to do so, riding Amtrak in the Northeast isn't cheap. A roundtrip between D.C. and Wilmington can cost upwards of $100 on a regular train, and well over $200 on the fancier Acela. A monthly ticket, which Biden presumably uses, still costs more than $1,000 per month. So along with his words, his votes and even his son, you can add one more tool the vice presidential hopeful has used to boost Amtrak -- his wallet.
August 26, 2008; 1:24 PM ET
Categories: 2008 Campaign , Senate
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