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Transportation Secretary Nominee Foxx Sails Through Senate Hearing

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx is one step closer to becoming the new Secretary of Transportation, and after yesterday’s hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, his appointment seems assured.

In what was one of the most congenial nomination hearings this year, Foxx joked with Senators, promised to work with the legislators and to be as transparent as possible. It was so congenial that more than half of the Senators on the committee didn’t even take the opportunity to publicly ask him questions, including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). (Foxx had met with all the Senators, including Boxer, privately.)

In his opening statement, and throughout the hearing, Foxx stressed the role of transportation as a catalyst for economic development. He said his priorities as Secretary would be making the U.S. transportation system the safest in the world; making the department more effective and efficient; and ensuring the U.S. build a transportation system to meet the needs of the next generation. While he never mentioned bicycling specifically, he continually mentioned the need to build multi-modal projects — and praised TIGER as a step in the right direction. He also indicated he would follow in the footsteps of Secretary Ray LaHood when it came to focusing on distracted driving, saying it was now “baked in” to how the DOT does business.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) asked about his support for the Recreational Trails Program to which Foxx answered that he “looked forward to talking more” with Senator Klobuchar about it. This was Foxx’s m.o. towards many questions he chose not to answer directly.

The hearing was marked more by what wasn’t said as what was — the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. Foxx got a few questions about how he would implement sequester with little pain, and was urged to cut waste and unnecessary regulations. But no one asked about whether he would raise the gas tax, or support a Vehicle Miles Traveled fee. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Ark.) was not there to ask about VMT. Begich said he would oppose any nominee that supported it.

Foxx was clear that he wanted to run an efficient department and avoid pain as much as possible, but also noted that, given the financial limitations, he wasn’t sure avoiding painful cuts was possible. Foxx indicated interest in tolling, infrastructure banks and public-private partnerships but that none of these were a magic bullet.

The only tense moment came at the end of the hearing, when Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) seemingly couldn’t hold back his frustration. He admonished Congress for not being willing to take up the hard issue of funding transportation. Saying that members were too afraid of contested primaries to make the tough choices that were right for the country. He expressed frustration with the idea that just being efficient would help avoid the pain of sequester. Without addition funding, he said, the country can’t avoid the pain of budget cuts

Rockefeller also warned Foxx, saying that for the nominee to succeed he’d have to tell the tough truths to Congress and couldn’t always be as agreeable as he was in the hearing. He suggested Foxx learn from LaHood. “Your predecessor would come up here and speak his mind — and he managed to get away with it.”

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