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LaHood Bashes Lawmakers Unhappy About Not Getting Rail Funds

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former House Republican, on Wednesday slammed his one-time GOP colleagues for complaining about their states not receiving high-speed rail funds, even as they voted against the $787 economic stimulus bill.

“We’ve seen them show up at the ribbon-cuttings, by the way, elbowing their way to the front of the line to get the first scissors. But we don’t make decisions based on how somebody votes or what their political party is,” LaHood said, referring to how his agency decides to award stimulus funding for rail projects. LaHood spoke to reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

LaHood responded to complaints by Texas lawmakers in particular. That state’s $1.8 billion request for rail projects was turned down. He dismissed the idea that the administration bypassed Texas — the second most populous state in the country and one that is fertile for rail development — for political reasons.

“If Texas had its act together, they would have gotten some high-speed rail money,” the former Illinois lawmaker said. “There is no connection having to do with politics or a vote because many Congressmen and Senators who voted against the bill got a boatload of money and were at the front of the line to cut the ribbon.”

LaHood touted the success of the stimulus bill and said he eagerly awaits Congressional passage of a jobs package containing more infrastructure funds.

“The president is pushing very hard for a jobs bill. … Really, no criticism can be leveled against the president for not being for infrastructure. He’s the one that put the $8 billion in the economy recovery bill [for light-rail projects],” LaHood said.

The Transportation secretary said he wasn’t planning to send his own highway bill to Congress and instead pledged to work with lawmakers to pass a comprehensive package. He said he is hopeful that House Republicans will be more willing to work with Obama after his meeting with them last week at their GOP retreat.

“We thought it was a pretty good session,” LaHood said. The political environment “looks very different” after that meeting.

Pressed on the reality that House Republicans have given no indication that they are more open to Obama’s proposals, LaHood said time will tell whether their meeting with Obama had a lasting effect: “He just had the meeting. We’re just getting started with the second session of Congress.”

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