Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Wednesday defended the Obama administration's plans for major investments in infrastructure before the Senate Budget Committee, saying the spending is justified because "America is one big pothole right now."
The administration's plan, announced in the president's budget Monday, calls for $476 billion in transportation spending over six years, partly paid for with money that was being spent on the war in Iraq. Most of that would go toward building and maintaining highways, but it includes $47 billion for the development of high-speed rail.
"This is the next generation of transportation," LaHood said, referring to high-speed rail. "America has always been about vision when it comes to transport."
"You've got a vision, it just isn't connected to reality," said Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the Budget Committee's ranking member. He described high-speed rail as "dead on arrival," and dismissed the funding plan as a "gimmick" that simply shifts borrowed money around.
Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) also voiced skepticism about using potential savings to pay for the plan.
Both the House and Senate are considering transportation bills this week. The House bill would provide funding of $260 billion over five years, but would cut federal funding for transit. The Senate bill would provide $109 billion over two years.
LaHood restated the administration's support for the Senate plan. "We hope it passes the Senate because it gets us out of the starting gate," he told reporters after the hearing.
The House bill has been broken into three parts, one dealing with transportation, the others with energy and federal employee pensions, in an attempt to pass the measures separately.