Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx won confirmation Thursday as the next Transportation secretary. (Saul Loeb / AFP)
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx easily won Senate confirmation Thursday to become the next secretary of transportation.
The Senate vote was 100 to 0. In his nomination, President Obama praised Foxx for breaking ground on the Charlotte Streetcar Project, opening a third parallel runway at Charlotte-Douglass International Airport and working to extend the LYNX light-rail system to the University of North Carolina in Charlotte.
“He is a superb and qualified person who is very much needed to overlook our enormous transportation system, which is in trouble,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va.
Foxx will immediately face a budget fight and several contentious airline rules for consumer protection and safety:
■ Congress is debating spending cuts for the Federal Aviation Administration after a previous budget crunch forced a week of air-traffic controller furloughs in April.
■ The Transportation Department is developing a consumer-protection rule dealing with how airlines market services, such as baggage fees and seat assignments.
■ Two pending safety rules at FAA that stem from a fatal crash in February 2009 would require more training for airline co-pilots and more simulator training for how to recover from a stall.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in valedictory remarks at the National Press Club before the vote, said he had no regrets from his four and a half years in office. But as a Republican in President Obama’s Democratic cabinet, LaHood lamented that partisanship was preventing progress on priorities such as a highway bill that would enable more construction funding.
“Take a moment and think about what we could do right now if Washington wasn’t distracted by sideshows and name-calling,” LaHood said. “Compromise is not a bad word, it is a way to success.”
LaHood argued that Congress could duck construction funding for only so long before bridges fall down, roads crumble and transit systems fail. But he said projects such as building airports and high-speed rail could boost the economy with their jobs and by spurring commerce.
“To me, we’re at the break point,” LaHood said. “This is no fun being way down on the list of infrastructure and watching China building 85 airports this year.”
The transportation bill has been stymied by a lack of agreement about how to fund it, perhaps by raising the gas tax. Asked about prospects, LaHood said the Senate seems likely to approve one, given the “healthy” debate on immigration. But he’s pessimistic about the House, where he served for 14 years, after “the debacle on the farm bill.”
“I think the prospects in the House are very dim right now,” LaHood said.
LaHood’s accomplishments in office include:
■ Penalizing airlines with fines when passengers are stranded on planes during long tarmac delays.
■ Requiring airlines to include government taxes in the fares they advertise, rather than disclosing them as tickets are about to be bought.
■ Enhancing safety with more training for airline co-pilots, in the most significant changes in 50 years, and requiring more rest for passenger airline pilots.
Enforcement fines against airlines for civil violations ranging from aircraft maintenance to misleading advertising nearly doubled during this administration.
“In every form of transportation in America, we at DOT think about safety every day so that people who are traversing airports and Amtrak stations and bus stations can worry about where they’re getting and not about safety,” LaHood said.
LaHood, 67, said he hasn’t decided what he’ll do next. He expected to serve on nonprofit boards and split his time between Washington and his native Peoria, Ill.
“I have no regrets,” said LaHood, who said he couldn’t thank the president enough for the opportunity. “I’m going to take July and August hope the phone rings and see who’s on the other end and in the fall decide what the next chapter is. I’m not going to retire.”
Bart Jansen writes for USA TODAY.