Pete Buttigieg has been overwhelmingly confirmed as the nation’s 19th Transportation Secretary. Let the cheerleading begin for President Joe Biden’s call for a “think big” approach to infrastructure modernization.
“It’s time to stop talking about infrastructure and finally start building infrastructure,” Biden said recently. “Millions of good-paying jobs putting Americans to work rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our ports to make them more climate resilient, to make them faster, cheaper, cleaner to transport American-made goods across our country and around the world, that’s how we compete,” Biden added before warning: “Failure to do so will cost us dearly.”
The chief salesperson for pushing that $1 to $2 trillion agenda through Congress will be Buttigieg.
“Mayor Pete” was confirmed 87-13 by the Senate Feb. 2 to become transportation secretary. He succeeds Elaine Chao, who lasted all but the final two weeks of the Trump administration before resigning.
The order of business in the Senate is clear. First, it’s former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. Then will come the push for the President’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. Following that will come what Biden has called his “big and bold” push for infrastructure and clean energy bill.
“The task before him is immense,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who with former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood co-chairs the group “Building America’s Future,” said in a statement.
“America’s infrastructure is in dire need of modernization and the threat posed by climate change only adds to the challenge,” Rendell said. “I have full confidence in Secretary Buttigieg’s knowledge and skills that he demonstrated as a mayor to lead President Biden’s vision to build back better.”
“Secretary Buttigieg’s keen intellect and passion for innovation will serve him well at DOT,” said LaHood, who served as Transportation Secretary from 2009 to 2013 under President Barack Obama.
The 39-year-old former mayor of South Bend is almost always casually referred to as “Mayor Pete.” It’s a moniker the friendly Midwesterner says he will “always” answer to, no matter what post he may have in the future.
“Once a mayor, always a mayor,” Buttigieg told host Joy Behar of “The View.”
Buttigieg has taken the new administration’s broader message to people who might miss it. And it’s been hard NOT to miss Mayor Pete on TV.
Since he was nominated, the media friendly Buttigieg has appeared on everything from a half-dozen television cable news and morning talk shows as well as more traditional mainstream media outlets such as NPR, The Washington Post and New York Times.
All the while, Buttigieg appears to expanding how one views the transportation secretary — a job that traditionally has been seen as a backwater among cabinet posts. Biden says Buttigieg will have an outsize role in pushing administration priorities, a role the former Democratic presidential rival appears to relish.
Buttigieg told The Washington Post that he had been driving recently and stopped to put air in his tires. A trucker recognized him, Buttigieg said, and they discussed truck safety regulations.
That’s actually what the 57,000-person sprawling bureaucracy like the DOT actually needs, a hands-on approach to a 1,001 little Excedrin-headache-type problems.
In other words, it needs a mayor of transportation.
Now, it actually has one.
And even a leading Republican in Congress voiced his willingness to work with the new DOT leader. Sam Graves, R-Mo., ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said: “Improving our Nation’s infrastructure is vital to getting our country moving again and driving economic expansion.
“I look forward to working with the Secretary on policies that can pass with strong bipartisan support through two nearly evenly divided Chambers of Congress,” Graves added. “Working with House Republicans will be an important part of any successful effort. “I sincerely believe we can find common ground.
For their part, various trade associations seem ready to work with Buttigieg on modernizing an aging infrastructure that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently estimated needs more than $2.6 trillion of investment by 2029 and more than $5.6 trillion by 2039.
“The long-term effects associated with infrastructure investments, long known to be a public safety issue, have a cascading impact on our nation’s economy, impacting business productivity, GDP, employment, personal income and international competitiveness,” an ASCE report said recently.
A who’s who of establishment Washington is lining up to support Buttigieg in his effort.
The U.S. Chamber has begun pushing a new campaign—“Build By the Fourth of July (BB4J).” As the name implies, it calls on Congress to pass comprehensive infrastructure legislation into law by July 4th, 2021. The effort includes more than 220 organizations, including major voices from business, labor and environmental groups.
“We hope that this unified message will provide critical momentum to finally pass a historic infrastructure bill that the country sorely needs,” the Chamber said.
“In our view, a successful ‘BB4J’ effort must be comprehensive, addressing not only crumbling roads, bridges, and transit, but many other components of U.S. infrastructure.” It called on the Biden administration to give a “clear strategy” on this initiative which can be called a “double” – good for infrastructure and giving the economy a much-needed jolt.
“We can also stimulate the economy in a major way if we finally do the long overdue and broadly supported work of rebuilding our infrastructure,” said U.S. Chamber CEO Thomas Donohue at his “State of American Business” address on Jan. 12.
Christopher J. Connor, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), said: “Our priorities align with those of the Secretary and President Biden. AAPA is devoted to building back better by strengthening and expanding federal programs to invest in freight infrastructure, port infrastructure, and security measures, enabling safe and efficient movement of freight and passengers. It’s our nation’s maritime gateways that have always kept essential goods moving; ensuring that food, medicine, and protective equipment get to our communities.”
Ian Jefferies, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), said, “Secretary Buttigieg’s clearly stated support for our nation’s rail network is welcome by AAR and its members.
“Together, we can make meaningful progress on building back our economy, driving down emissions and maintaining the nation’s global competitiveness,” he added. “The AAR and its members congratulate Secretary Buttigieg on his confirmation and stand ready to partner with him on sensible, sustainable infrastructure policies to keep our country moving forward.”
Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway Officials (ASHTO), said, “As the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, state DOTs will serve as a resource for Secretary Buttigieg and the U.S. Department of Transportation to help address the nation’s transportation challenges.
“Like Secretary Buttigieg, state DOTs support equity in transportation investments and decision-making,” Tymon added. “And, they share a desire to address our nation’s climate crisis and make transportation systems more resilient.”
NATSO, the trade association for truck stop operators, congratulated Buttigieg and said the group “looks forward to working with him on a broad spectrum of issues,” including the need for long-term, sustainable highway funding and policies that further encourage private-sector investment in alternative fueling infrastructure, such as electric vehicle charging.
“As our nation charts a path for economic recovery, much will be asked of our freight system,” Elaine Nessle, executive director of the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC), said. “Now more than ever, significant federal investment is needed to support our essential supply chains and guide our nation to economic recovery and prosperity.”
Nessle added Buttigieg will have an excellent asset in President Biden’s nomination for Deputy Transportation Secretary, Polly Trottenberg. A veteran of Capitol Hill and DOT, she most recently led New York City’s Department of Transportation.