Charlotte, N.C. Mayor Anthony Foxx sailed through an easy confirmation hearing Wednesday afternoon, avoiding tough questions from a panel of senators and offering poised but unsurprising answers.
Foxx, President Obama's nomination to head the Department of Transportation, faced questions from the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation.
Many of them asked about particular issues that affected their states, and Foxx told them what they wanted to hear.
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut asked Foxx about a lack of investment in rail lines that may have contributed to last week's train derailment that injured more than 70 people. Foxx assured him that safety would be his "number one priority, whether it is rail or any other mode of transportation."
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota asked Foxx about a trails programs important to snowmobile riders in her state. Foxx assured her that he was committed to it.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texasasked Foxx for a pledge to identify three regulations within his first 100 days of office that he considered burdensome. Foxx didn't take the bait but seemed open to further dialogue. "If I find 10 that we can eliminate or reduce... I'd like to do that, but I can't do it blindly," Foxx said.
But the most interesting part of the hearing came at the end, when Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), the committee chair, gave Foxx a dose of Washington reality. Without proper funding, Rockefeller said, few of Foxx's ambitions or that of Congress could come to fruition when it comes to transportation infrastructure.
Rockefeller urged Foxx to use his bully-pulpit to call for adequate funding for transportation. That's been a perpetual problem that Congress has been unwilling to address. The gas tax -- the primary tool used to fund federal transportation investment -- hasn't been raised in 20 years. Because it's not tied to inflation, the purchasing power of the tax is constantly diminishing.
"I want you to be a good secretary of transportation," Rockefeller said. "You can't do that without new revenue."
"Goad us," Rockefeller continued. "Let us have it. Express your frustrations. Say 'I've squeezed this, I've squeezed that."
Foxx, for his part, did not elaborate much on the issue of transportation funding. He did say that while there's a role for tolling, it's "not a complete solution" to the funding challenges.
He also endorsed the idea of a national infrastructure bank, echoing an idea Obama has touted throughout his presidency without gaining much traction.
Foxx said he plans to be engaged in the debate about the next surface transportation bill. The existing legislation, MAP-21, is only a two-year law, and it expires next year. The administration was criticized for not playing a more hands-on role in deliberations with Congress on that bill. "Clearly we need a longer-term surface transportation bill," Foxx said, pledging to be an active advocate within the administration and to Congress.