May 03--CHARLESTON, W.Va.--The head of the nation's transportation system said during a stop in Charleston on Monday that Republicans and Democrats in Washington could come together this year to pass a major new transportation bill.
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said during a speech to a group of transportation officials that the Obama administration viewed the bill as way to put Americans to work.
"We need a transportation bill because it will be a jobs bill," he said.
The bill would set the nation's transportation priorities for the next six years.
And bill isn't just for highways, so there will be numerous fights that could potentially change how Americans get from place to place ? the White House wants to invest billions in high-speed rail, for instance.
Known as the highway reauthorization bill, Congress last passed a similar measure in 2005 and it expired in September 2009. Transportation money has been flowing under a series of temporary extensions ever since.
But it's becoming clear the key battle will be how to fund whatever mix of infrastructure spending Congress passes, with Democrats calling for upgrades of deteriorating roads and Republicans urging efforts to reign in spending across the board.
LaHood praised lawmakers for putting aside partisan differences to pass previous highway bills.
"There are no Democrat or Republican roads," he said.
He cited, in particular, the 2009 stimulus bill that included $48 billion for transportation projects. LaHood left unmentioned that no Republicans in the U.S. House voted for the bill and only two Republicans senators backed it.
LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, himself questioned GOP plans to reign in the debt and deficit by dramatically cutting spending.
"You don't take your entire check and pay it against your credit card," he said.
Bipartisanship wasn't exactly the tenor of the interaction among the three members of West Virginia's delegation who attended.
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., called for bipartisanship but also used his speech to attack a Republican budget proposal.
"That budget would cut investment in highways, highway safety, and transit by about one-third: one-third less bridge repair, one-third less safety improvement and one-third less bus service," he said.
Both Rahall and Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., voted against the budget proposal last month.
Known as the Ryan Budget for its sponsor Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the plan was designed to significantly cut federal spending in coming years, including for infrastructure projects and entitlement programs like Medicare.
Rahall has been focusing a good deal of attention on transportation lately.
After the Republicans became the majority in the House, Rahall left the House Committee on Natural Resources he once chaired to become the top Democrat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
During remarks advertised by his office as a "major address," Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., also assaulted defense spending and Republican-backed tax breaks.
He said it would be hard to build roads without ending tax cuts for the wealthy and extracting the United States from the "two and a half wars" it is fighting.
"It's so idiotic to have 2 percent, 3 percent of the population having so much of the money" and getting tax breaks, Rockefeller said.
He said Congress needs to "combine smarted, targeted spending cuts with smart, targeted revenue increases."
Cutting through the jargon of "revenue increases," Rockefeller added: "Call it taxes, if you prefer."
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who spoke following Rockefeller, acknowledged the assault her party had just undergone.
"I appreciate you slamming the bill I voted for," she said in remarks that were the briefest of the bunch.
Capito added, "The good news is we all want to get to the same place."
Contact writer Ry Rivard at email@example.com or 304-348-1796.