LaHood spoke at the National Press Club as part of the administration's efforts to push Congress to pass President Obama's jobs bill, which failed to garner enough votes to block a filibuster earlier this week. Obama's jobs bill includes a $50 billion request for immediate infrastructure spending and $10 billion for an infrastructure bank. Neither of those ideas is likely to get very far in Congress, because Republicans are opposed to new spending in general and see the infrastructure-bank proposal as an unnecessary bureaucracy.
All this may be too much for LaHood, a moderate Republican who served in the House from 1994 until 2008. In Congress, he had a knack for running the floor smoothly and efficiently and was popular among journalists for his straight talk about House operations. As Transportation secretary, LaHood has taken the same no-nonsense approach toward an array of public-policy issues. He was hauled up before Congress in 2010 to answer questions about faulty brakes in some Toyota cars. In a gaffe, he first said that Toyota drivers shouldn't use their cars, but he backed away from those comments relatively quickly.
LaHood has also used his bully pulpit to promote safe-driving campaigns that warn drivers to avoid using smartphones to text or e-mail while on the road. That campaign has met with kudos from the industry and safety advocates alike.