LaHood Says He’s Staying On as Transportation Secretary

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he will stay on for an indefinite period in President Barack Obama’s second term.

The Illinois Republican’s future has been unclear as Obama’s other cabinet picks have fallen into place. The White House has designated new leaders for the State, Defense and Treasury departments. It has identified several other department heads who are leaving or staying without discussing LaHood.

LaHood declined to say whether he would stay or go several times at public appearances last week. He said at an inauguration party in Washington last night he will be “sticking around for a while,” without specifying.

Earlier in the evening, LaHood was one of a handful of cabinet secretaries to join Obama in the presidential viewing stand in front of the White House to watch the inaugural parade. First Lady Michelle Obama and the couple’s two daughters left the stand midway through the parade, which included bands, floats and unicyclists. After they left, LaHood sat with Obama and chatted in the front row of the stand, protected by bulletproof glass.

“I don’t have anything new to add beyond what has been said publicly,” Justin Nisly, a Transportation Department spokesman, said in an e-mail today.

LaHood has been Obama’s principal advocate for increased infrastructure spending the president has said is needed to heal the U.S. economy. That includes the president’s vision for high-speed passenger rail, which was stalled by Congress’s refusal to keep paying for it.

Seven Terms

LaHood, 67, served seven terms in Congress as a representative from central Illinois, overlapping with Obama in the state’s delegation from 2005 to 2009. He is the only Republican in Obama’s cabinet; former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel would be the second if confirmed as defense secretary.

Congress and Obama’s administration in June reached a two-year deal on roads and transit. Instead of raising the U.S. gasoline tax, the largest source of revenue for road, bridge and transit spending, the legislation used $18.8 billion in general taxpayer money, in addition to fuel taxes, to keep spending at current levels -- about $52 billion a year -- through fiscal 2014.

Obama spent part of this year’s presidential campaign talking about the need to do “nation-building here at home” after spending years and billions of dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year, he proposed a six-year, $556 billion transportation plan that hasn’t been acted upon by Congress.

The president hasn’t specified ways to pay for the plan. LaHood and the administration have opposed raising the 18.4 cents-a-gallon U.S. gasoline tax, which has been the main source for highway, bridge and transit expansions since the 1980s. The levy hasn’t been raised since 1993 and isn’t indexed for inflation.

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