By Keith Laing - 03/10/11 05:27 PM EST
Congress is probably not going to appropriate anything close to the $556 billion President Obama has requested for transportation, Indiana Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) told Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Thursday.
“You know how Congress works,” Coats said to LaHood, a former Republican House member. “The reality is we’re probably not going to get to the numbers the administration has proposed.
“Have you looked at a plan B?,” Coats asked LaHood.
The administration has called for Congress to invest in the nation’s highways and bridges, but also in high-speed rail projects. Those have been a tough sell so far.
Coats suggested support for appropriating funds to pay for some road and bridge improvements.
“You've listed some high priorities here. We all have crumbling roads & bridges,” he continued. “We know this infrastructure, particularly in the East and Midwest, is old and in need of repair.”
But LaHood answered that it was important to approve the full spending request, including the funds for high-speed rail.
DoT would always prioritize investing in roads and bridges, he said, because “that's what we know how to do.” But high-speed rail was President Obama's signature transportation proposal, he said.
“Transit is very important,” LaHood said. "You look at right here in Washington, if we didn't have our great WMATA [transit] system, nobody would be able to get anywhere. This place would be a parking lot, and most people think it's a parking lot now.”
Coats countered that the political landscape had shifted since Obama first proposed his rail initiatives. He cited the realities of the election in November, “the make-up of the House of Representatives and changing perceptions of what we do with our debt and deficit.”
“Some of these things just don’t make sense, particularly at a time of shrinking revenues,” Coats said. “Let's make sure we prioritize how people use their transportation.”
Another Republican senator, Roy Blunt, also suggested Obama’s transportation budget was too costly. Blunt (R-Mo.) sarcastically described the difference between current spending and the 62 percent increase proposed by Obama as a “tiny gap.”
Lahood said he hoped lawmakers would consider the transportation proposal a “a jobs budget.”