WASHINGTON—There's a good chance the Senate will pass a long-term, comprehensive highway bill this year, but the prospects in the House of Representatives are much dimmer, according to outgoing Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
LaHood made his remarks June 27 in his farewell address as DOT secretary at Washington's National Press Club.
The cooperation the Senate is showing on immigration reform legislation—which LaHood predicted would pass there—suggests strongly that senators also have the will to pass a highway bill, he said. But the House is another matter.
“After the debacle of the farm bill, the prospects in the House are not good,” LaHood said. “The way the farm bill played out—when anyone who wanted to add an amendment did so, then voted against the bill as a whole—that's not the way to engender good will, or the return of bipartisanship.”
LaHood, a seven-term congressman from Illinois who became one of the few Republicans in President Obama's Cabinet, said a return to civility and bipartisanship was the only way Congress could hope to accomplish anything.
LaHood said bipartisan dinners were a regular feature in Congress when he served there. “We wouldn't agree on all the issues, but we developed friendships that lasted long after we left Congress.”
“When I was in Congress, people came to Washington to get something done,” he said. “In the last few elections, a smaller group of people are here to do nothing, and that's what they've done.”
When Obama was first elected to the Senate in 2004, LaHood said, one of his first acts was to call on LaHood's district office in Peoria, Ill. “Bipartisanship is in the president's DNA,” he said.
LaHood was appointed as DOT secretary in 2009. During his National Press Club speech, he noted several accomplishments during his tenure of which he was proudest, including:
• The Cash for Clunkers program to buy back old, high-polluting vehicles, which he said resulted in the sale of 700,000 new cars in 30 days;
• A corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) of 54.5 mpg to go in effect by model year 2025; and
• The repair or replacement of 350,000 miles of roads and 20,000 bridges.
Also during LaHood's tenure, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a final rule on tire fuel economy ratings, on March 30, 2010. However, proposed rules on fuel economy labeling and consumer information programs have yet to come out of NHTSA.