Monday, April 29, 2013

Is Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood a Political Hack?

President Obama nominated on Monday Anthony R. Foxx, the Mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, as the next Secretary of Transportation. The sitting secretary, Raymond LaHood, has agreed to remain in office until the Senate confirms his replacement. What can we say about Secretary’s LaHood’s four years in office? Is the former Republican Congressman from Illinois a political hack? The Congressman from Peoria was known to be a conservative on most issues, but not when it came to spending. He was a prince of pork, quite willing to spend the public’s money on pork barrel projects, as if he were a spendthrift Democrat. Democrats have their tax and spend representatives, and Republicans have representatives, such as Secretary LaHood, who are big on spending, but without the taxing. Secretary LaHood had two major unexpected problems on his watch: The Toyota sudden acceleration at the beginning and the Boeing lithium battery fires on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner at the end. They were not of his agency’s making and are not resolvable by his agency. Whether or not he handled them right will be judged by history, especially after the Dreamliner has flown for years. He has failed two major tests though: California’s Bullet Train and the FAA Sequester. The Bullet Train is the train from nowhere to nowhere at the beginning, from Bakersfield to Merced. The so-called high-speed train is supposed to go from San Diego to Sacramento in less time than Southwest Air’s 737’s. California’s voters in a paroxysm of blind optimisms voted to bond $8 billion for the train. That is just the entry fee for a project estimated to cost $100 million, but than scaled down to use existing tracks in spots and not be high speed. The new estimate is under $70 billion, but never forget that the “Bullet Train” is a government spending boondoggle for planners, press agents, lawyers, contractors, and the union builders. Once, if, built and running, the train is expected to lose to lose a large, but unknown, amount annually. Coupled with the interest on the bonds, Californians will be paying for the train for decades. Secretary LaHood would never miss an opportunity to spend the taxpayers money. He approved another $3.7 billion in federal funds to prime the train’s pump. As long as the Republicans control at least one branch of the federal government, the federal spigot will be closed. The train will probably never be completed, going down in history with Solyndra, Fisker, and all the other broken green dreams of the Obama Administration. The most politically cynical act of his reign over DOT was to furlough air traffic controllers last week in an exercise of Obama Administration pique over the Sequester. The Sequester required the FAA to cut $637 million from its budget. The agency decided to cut a disproportionate amount from the air traffic controllers’ budget, such that the controllers would have to give up one day for every ten worked i.e. 11 workdays by September 30. In essence 1,500, 10% of the controllers would be off the job every day. The agency warned it could escalate to affecting 6,700 of the 30,000-35,000 daily commercial flights. The FAA was willing to thrust the blunt of the Sequester on air traffic control eventhough 2/3 of the Agency’s revenues (and budget) comes from the taxes the Agency imposes on airline passengers. The Agency was either so smart or stupid that it could only inform airlines a few hours in advance of expected shortages for the day. Thus, the airlines could not plan nor readjust their schedules. The attitude of the Obama Administration has been transparently political: use the Sequester to gain political points over the Republicans in the House, either by hurting the public, as with the bonehead FAA action, or by cutting highly visible operations, such as public tours of the White House. The tragedy of the Obama Administration is that they look through the prism of politics to decide seemingly every act by the President. The issue for them is not to do what’s right for Americans, but how to maximize the political advantage. Remember though that a cabinet secretary is not a free agent. He or she must follow the policies of the Administration, that is, POTUS. The historical alternative was the risky course of resigning. Very few in Washington escape Potomac Fever; thus, resignation is not an option for them. The Senate voted unanimously on the 26th to end the Sequester on the air traffic controllers. The House followed on Friday through a 361 - 41 vote. Congress voted to transfer $253 million from other FAA accounts to pay for the controllers through the end of September. Is Congressman LaHood a political hack?” To ask the question is to answer it!

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