ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: With the Obama administration selling the on-the-ground-impact of the stimulus bill, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told us today that infrastructure projects are on their way to creating “thousands” of new jobs -- jobs that he said will be sustainable if Congress follows up with a comprehensive transportation bill.
“They'll be sustainable because Congress, right on the heels of this, is gonna pass an authorization bill to authorize another highway bill for another five years, which will include additional projects,” LaHood said on ABCNews’com’s “Top Line.”
“Not the ones we're funding . . . but additional projects -- more roads, more bridges, more light rail, high-speed rail, thinking a little bit differently about how we do transportation,” he added. “So, are they sustainable? They'll be sustainable if Congress passes the authorization on the heels of the stimulus 18 months down the road here.”
On Thursday, President Obama is set to unveil a major high-speed rail initiative -- paid for, at least initially, by money that’s already been approved by Congress as part of the stimulus.
LaHood also suggested he would be taking a relatively hands-off approach on the always-controversial issue of earmarks.
“I think the leadership of Congress has gotten the message on earmarks,” said LaHood, who requested and received earmarks frequently when he represented an Illinois House district. “They’re really -- the American taxpayer doesn't like them, the President has sent a pretty loud message that he doesn't like them, and it'll be up to the Congress to decide whether they really want to go against the will of the people here.”
He added: “Well, look, it's not going to be up to me. I'm not going to write the bill. I didn't get elected to anything. But these members of Congress will have to make a decision whether they want to continue with the level of criticism that's been leveled against earmarks, or whether they really want to do it in a way that reflects what the needs are around the country.”
Though LaHood joined President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden yesterday in celebrating the 2,000th transportation project to get approved, work has begun on only a small fraction of those projects.
But that’s about to change, LaHood said.
“As soon as the weather breaks in most of the country, you're going to see an enormous number of people working on roads and bridges, and I think it's probably another month,” he said. “You know, I was in Illinois over the weekend and it was snowing, so it's pretty hard to get a shovel in the ground when you have that kind of weather. But within the next 30 days, a lot of these projects are going to begin and you're going to see working -- in good paying jobs, by the way.”
In addition, as something of an Obama emissary to Republicans -- LaHood is the only former GOP elected official in the Cabinet -- he all but guaranteed Republican support for some major Obama initiatives later this year.
“I think Republicans want to be helpful on energy, on education, and on healthcare,” he said. “And I think -- I've heard the President say this -- we're gonna continue to reach out to Republicans, we want them to be a part of helping us solve these very, very complex problems, and you know, it’s not a political slogan with the President. I'm proof of it, I'm a Republican, I'm included in the Cabinet, and so it's not a political slogan, and I think you'll see the President and some of the rest of us reach out to Republicans.”
Click HERE to see our interview with Secretary LaHood.
We also chatted with Republican strategist Kevin Madden about the politics of stimulus spending, the Minnesota Senate race, and tomorrow’s nationwide “tea party” protests.
Click HERE to see the interview with Madden.