(Adds background on pending cabinet nominations, Foxx
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON, June 27 The U.S. Senate on Thursday
voted 100-0 to approve Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Anthony Foxx to
head the U.S. Transportation Department, handing him the job as
tight budgets are forcing lawmakers to rethink how to fund huge
U.S. infrastructure needs.
The 42-year-old Foxx joins President Barack Obama's Cabinet
after four years as mayor of the 17th-largest U.S. city and four
years on the Charlotte city council.
Under his leadership, Charlotte was selected host city for
the 2012 Democratic party convention, which propelled Obama to a
second term in the White House and brought Foxx national fame.
He now will oversee a department with about 53,000 full-time
employees and over $72 billion in budget authority. In addition,
over 12 million Americans are employed in transportation-related
jobs that could be affected by decisions Foxx makes.
Foxx is the third member of Obama's second-term Cabinet
approved in the past two weeks with broad bipartisan support,
unlike the battle over approval of former Republican Senator
Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary.
The Senate voted 97 to 1 on Tuesday to approve Chicago
billionaire businesswoman Penny Pritzker to be commerce
secretary and voted 93 to 4 last week to give Obama's
international economic affairs adviser Mike Froman the job of
U.S. trade representative. Hagel, in contrast, was approved
58-41 after an acrimonious confirmation battle.
Two other Obama cabinet nominees - Tom Perez to head the
Department of Labor and Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental
Protection Agency - face a rough ride in the Senate.
Perez, who is currently assistant attorney general for the
Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, was barely approved
in committee by a 12-10 vote, with Republicans all voting no.
McCarthy, who heads EPA's air and radiation office, was
approved in committee by a 10-8 party line vote, and Republican
opposition has been intensified by Obama's announcement this
week of plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing
Foxx will succeed current Transportation Secretary Ray
LaHood, a Republican and former member of Congress who has spent
much of his adult life in Washington.
He has promised to continue LaHood's focus on safety,
including a program to reduce distracted driving, while working
with Congress and the transportation community to find new ways
of funding highway projects and other infrastructure needs.
A recent study from the American Society of Civil Engineers
estimated the United States needs to spend $2.75 trillion by
2020 to maintain and improve highways and other important
infrastructure. That's roughly 66 percent more than the $1.66
trillion in expected funding over that period.
For decades, Congress has relied on the federal gasoline tax
to fund highway projects, but that is seen as an increasingly
ineffective way of raising revenue because rising fuel
efficiency means less gas is sold. The gas tax is currently 18.4
cents per gallon and has not been raised since 1993.
Congress will confront the issue again next year when the
current two-year highway bill expires.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Vicki Allen and Cynthia