Transportation Secretary Is the Stimulus Package's Biggest Republican Fan

By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 24, 2009

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican former congressman from Illinois, has become President Obama's go-to guy when it comes to dealing with the opposition on Capitol Hill. But LaHood is the first to admit that winning Republicans over to the president's side is a hard slog.

"I haven't been too successful so far," he said in an interview this week. "On the . . . economic stimulus bill, we weren't able to get any." The Transportation Department received one of the largest pots of stimulus money -- $48 billion -- and LaHood is pushing money out the door faster than most agencies for roads and runways and mass transit. Last week, the president even stopped by to celebrate the approval of the 2,000th project.

LaHood, 63, supported Republican John McCain for president, and while he says the senator from Arizona was fine with his going to work for his opponent, LaHood's own grandson was rather perplexed.

Romano: Did President Obama tell you he wanted you to do some bipartisan outreach?

LaHood: He was looking for a Republican. . . . One of the things we talked about is the fact that I do have very good relationships in Congress.

Romano: We're fast approaching the 100-day mark in the Obama administration. What's going to be said about you?

LaHood: That I was able to really help the president to the extent that we had $48 billion in the economic stimulus plan. Every state in the country now is starting to receive some of that money. . . . You're going to see an enormous number of people working in good-paying jobs.

Romano: How many jobs?

LaHood: Over the life of this program, which is about 18 months, we believe 150,000 new jobs will be created.

Romano: You've come into this job at a time when [the Federal Aviation Administration] has low morale, outdated equipment, union issues. Where do you start?

LaHood: Our two priorities . . . [are to] get a contract between the FAA controllers and the administration, a contract that will satisfy what the controllers believe are pay issues and workplace issues, and we think we'll -- we'll get to that very quickly, and then really get the next-generation technology.

Romano: You've taken a gas tax off the table?

LaHood: There will be no raising the gas tax under this administration, particularly because of the rough shape that our economy is in, and with so many people out of work, it's very difficult to be talking to people about raising the gas tax.

Romano: Rahm Emanuel sought your advice before when he was offered the chief-of-staff job -- what did you tell him?

LaHood: Rahm was in a very good position before he became chief of staff. He was on a track . . . and one of the most respected members of the House. . . . For him to leave that kind of a position -- the chief-of-staff job is almost as tough a job as being president. . . . I just, you know, wanted to test him out a little bit to make sure he knew what he was really thinking.

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