Former Rep. Ray LaHood, a Republican from Illinois, yesterday was poised to become secretary of the Department of Transportation after he sailed through a Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination.
Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee members sent LaHood's nomination to the full Senate after chairman John D. Rockefeller, D-W. Va., asked mid-hearing for unanimous consent to do so.
As of press time, the full Senate had not yet taken a vote on the nomination.
LaHood garnered praise from both sides of the aisle for what members called his ability to work in a bipartisan manner during the two-and-a-half-hour hearing.
LaHood said his first job would be to implement President Obama's national transportation priorities in the department and to help guide any economic recovery package dollars that Congress passes that is directed toward transportation. House Democrats have proposed about $30 billion be allocated for highway and bridge projects.
"The president and the members of his economic team have spoken extensively about the need for quick action, and the economic recovery and renewal plan currently under discussion responds directly to this need," LaHood said in prepared remarks. "Transportation infrastructure is a substantial part of that plan, and one of my first and most important tasks ... will be to manage the effective use of those funds."
LaHood said four areas - economic health, sustainability, "a focus on people and communities," and safety - will be "major priorities for me if I am confirmed because I believe a transportation system that meets these goals is vital to our long-term national interest."
While LaHood said he would work to fix the nation's ailing infrastructure and focus on creating new mass transit and rail projects, he called the highway trust fund, and the gasoline tax that supports it, a "dinosaur."
"We've come far afield of that, we need to really be creative about [financing transportation infrastructure]," he said.
Gasoline and diesel fuel tax revenues currently are used to fund the highway trust fund, but many lawmakers view those taxes as insufficient to meet necessary funding levels. Congress in September had to transfer $8 billion from the general fund to shore up the highway trust fund.
LaHood pointed to public-private partnerships and toll roads as ways to build up the country's infrastructure.
LaHood also said that the multiyear transportation authorization bill that Congress this year will consider reauthorizing may not contain enough revenue to cover projects across the country and that lawmakers must be innovative going forward.
The current law - the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users, or SAFETEA-LU - expires Sept. 30. That law authorized $286.5 billion in federal investment for highways, public transportation, and highway safety programs from fiscal years 2004 through 2009.
LaHood was most recently a member of the House Appropriations Committee, and he also sat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure for six years.