LaHood Gets a Warm Welcome on the Hill
By Carol D. Leonnig
Former representative Ray LaHood was warmly received at his Cabinet confirmation hearing this afternoon, as he promised to be a "hands on" transportation secretary who would focus on delivering more than $43 billions in new road- and bridge-building projects to help jump-start the economy.
The greeting for the former seven-term member from Illinois -- who had worked alongside several Senate Commerce Committee members when they had served in the House -- was so genial that several senators treated the committee's nod as a foregone conclusion.
LaHood, 62, who chose not to seek re-election last year, will be the only Republican in Obama's cabinet and was praised for his practical, bipartisan approach as a member of Congress.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., began to address LaHood as "our soon to be --" before stopping himself.
"Well, I won't preempt the committee, but so far, doing pretty good," he said to LaHood, as the room broke into laughter.
In addition to pledging to launch stimulus projects that could create hundreds of thousands of jobs, LaHood committed to doing most of what committee members asked him to do at the hearing. Tops on his list of promises were: fixing chronic budget shortages in a pot of funds meant to maintain federal highways and bridges, putting in place an expensive new technology to reduce delays in airline travel, supporting Amtrak train service, and striving to meet a deadline for more fuel-efficient cars.
"I know this Next Gen stuff is expensive, but we have to do it," LaHood said of the air traffic technology. "The flying public deserves it."
"We're going to meet the standard, Senator," LaHood said of the fuel efficiency deadline.
LaHood also said he sympathized with a Democratic member who said the previous Transportation Department had been "arrogant" in rejecting Congress' input.
And he agreed with the ranking committee Republican, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas, that the previous administration had wrongly over-emphasized financing transportation projects with private tolls.
Posted at 6:13 PM ET on Jan 21, 2009
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