SPECIAL REPORT: LaHood nomination sent to full Senate for confirmation

| 1/21/2009

Jan. 21, 2008 – The Secretary of Transportation nominee Ray LaHood knows a little bit about smooth roads – especially since his confirmation hearing didn’t hit a pothole.

The retired representative from Illinois heard members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee say things like, “He’s no pushover.” And, “I’m proud to call him a friend.”

But beyond the niceties, LaHood was applauded for his bipartisan work, his no-nonsense approach to see the need of a greater good and not just a small minority, and getting the job done.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-WV, chaired the first official meeting of the committee following the inauguration of President Barack Obama. LaHood was slated for a hearing before the committee this past week but it was delayed.

“There was a delay because of paperwork and that was infuriating,” Rockefeller said. He pointed out the FBI does the paperwork on the nominees and hinted that the delay might have cast a cloud of doubt over LaHood.

He went on to say that ranking member Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX, reviewed the paperwork and it’s “sparkling clean,” in an apparent attempt to remove any doubt about LaHood’s nomination.

Members were able to give opening statements. The apparent agreement on key issues and lack of any real controversy led to Rockefeller cutting the question-and-answer portion of the hearing short in an effort to allow committee members to participate in the vote on Hillary Clinton’s confirmation by 4:30 p.m. EST.

Washington, DC, insiders speculate that LaHood’s confirmation will sail through the Senate and could very well happen sooner rather than later.

During LaHood’s confirmation hearing before the committee, several issues important to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and truckers alike were discussed.

The following are a few of the issues discussed.

Cross-border program
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, called on LaHood to put an immediate end to the cross-border pilot program with Mexico.

Dorgan not only called for an end of the program, but asked LaHood to do it within two months.

In 2008, Dorgan sponsored a bill, which eventually passed both the Senate and House of Representatives and was signed into law by Bush, to end the program.

What ensued were legal word games in which the then-head of the DOT kept the program running.

That hasn’t set well with Dorgan. He even called out the Bush administration in the fall of 2008.

“The Department of Transportation has already defied the intent of Congress once, and they are not going to get away with it again,” said Dorgan.

The program may have stayed in play on into 2009, but Dorgan seized the opportunity to make those words come true.

“I want to see the end of this program within two months,” Dorgan told LaHood in opening remarks during LaHood’s confirmation hearing.

Public-private partnerships
Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA, challenged the unchecked use of public-private partnerships and encouraged LaHood to mandate accountability.

“PPPs cannot just be the public sector putting up the dough and the private sector reaping the benefits,” Warner said.

The senator encouraged that the private investors have some “skin in the game” in these deals.

LaHood expressed his desire to demand accountability from both sectors.

Tolls on existing highways
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX, asked LaHood about his stance on tolling existing interstates to pay for new projects.

LaHood does not see the logic behind taking roads that have been paid for with tax money and slapping up a tollbooth.

He is open to tolling new lanes – lanes being added to existing interstates.

That stance drew a nod of approval from Hutchison, which she followed up by saying, “That’s how I feel.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, questioned LaHood on his stance on the use of earmarks.

LaHood responded by saying he works for Obama, and the new president does not want earmarks to dominate as they have in the past.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor