LaTourette v. LaHood: Checking and balancing on Capitol Hill

While the Senate debates a tobacco regulation bill and Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor (albeit a bit hobbled) continues week two of her rock-star tour of the Senate office buildings, the House floor is jam-packed with a whole slew of wide-ranging bills dealing with everything from international science projects, high-performance buildings and the Boy Scouts to Asian-Pacific heritage, Flag Day, witness protection grants, AmeriCorps and recreational boating.

More serious and substantive debate is expected when the House takes up the war supplemental, the so-called “cash for clunkers” car trade-in program, aid for Pakistan and a resolution on the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller. Something for everyone, as they say.

Suspend this!

I am happy to report that the epidemic of unnamed federal buildings might be subsiding. Having named three buildings last week alone, just one post office-naming bill popped up on the House schedule this week. The House gets major kudos for turning the corner on this problem before it became a full-fledged nationwide crisis.

In all seriousness, I am sure there are some quite worthy names being chiseled on federal buildings from coast to coast, but perhaps it’s time to borrow a little of that “cap-and-trade”-style wisdom to address this problem: one federal building-naming resolution per member per session of Congress. Just think about it — and get back to me.

The wit and wisdom of Ray LaHood

Former Republican Illinois Rep. and current Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood seems to be transporting himself everwhere these days. Every time I look up I see LaHood breaking ground on some stimulus-funded transportation project or another.

All part of its effort to shovel out the door its share of those $787 billion Stimu-Bucks to transportation projects across the country and get those nasty job loss numbers reversed, LaHood’s Transportation Department team seems to be working overtime trying to move the cash out the door as quickly as possible.

So confident in his across-the-aisle Republican Cabinet find these days, President Obama actually sent LaHood on a semi-secret overseas mission to Lebanon this past weekend to observe the elections there. According to communications director Jill Zuckman, LaHood, of Lebanese descent, visited 10 polling places on Sunday and witnessed “unprecedented voter turnout.”  LaHood, who also met with the Lebanese president and prime minister, was quite impressed by how well the election process was conducted, according to Zuckman.

Before his high-level weekend trip, LaHood trekked to the Rayburn House Office Building to talk stateside transportation projects with his former colleagues on the Appropriations Committee. I caught up with LaHood, who seems to be relishing his new role sitting in the witness chair (as opposed to being up on the dais firing the questions).

LaHood seemed to enjoy a line of questioning that came his way courtesy of Ohio Republican Rep. Steven LaTourette on the issue of the Chrysler car dealership closings and how, as LaTourette sees it, Obama is being ill-served by decisions by his Auto Task Force.

LaTourette, a former prosecutor who obviously knows a thing or two about grilling a witness, gave a stinging and near-perfect critique of the task force. Presenting facts, figures and documents to back up his claims, the Ohio Congressman drew this response from LaHood and then subcommittee Chairman John Olver (D-Mass.):

LaHood: I’ve told Mr. LaTourette this privately, but I will say it publicly. When I saw him represent Mr. Traficant on the House floor, I told him, whenever I needed a lawyer, he would be the one that I would pick. This is the reason right here. He does his homework, and he obviously has done his homework. I did see your press conference that you held at the Capitol, and it, as usual, was very well-documented and very thorough, and I appreciate that, and I appreciate the points that you made.

Olver, impressed by the fact that LaHood took LaTourette’s effective barrage with style and grace — but no real answers — proclaimed, “Mr. Secretary, you really are good.”

Prior to the exchange about Chrysler and the Auto Task Force, LaTourette, probably up to some old prosecutor tricks, set about to soften up his prey (LaHood) with a little pre-confrontation humor:

 LaTourette: Mr. Secretary, it’s lovely to see you again. I was commenting before, and I’ll say it publicly, that I want to congratulate you and the administration for the naming of John McHugh as the new secretary of the Army. You couldn’t have a better person. The only consternation that it’s created on our side is that, as the president’s chief of staff, Mr. Emanuel continues to pillage moderate Republicans from the House, and increase the Democratic margin. Mr. Latham and I are a little disappointed, because he’s gone from LaHood, skipped Latham and LaTourette, and went right to the M’s. And so maybe ...


... Maybe if we could revisit that issue, we’d appreciate it.

Olver: You might be next in line.

LaTourette: You never know, you never know.


Maybe not — maybe not after these questions, we’ll see …

You can reach Jim Mills at