By Ted Mann 

WASHINGTON -- Former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg pledged Thursday his support for President Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure-rebuilding plan during a confirmation hearing before a Senate panel.

The $2 trillion target is tied to Mr. Biden's goal to use climate change as a wedge for economic development, focused on rebuilding roads and bridges and expanding zero-emission mass transit and electric-car infrastructure. In all, the administration seeks to spend $7 trillion over a decade to combat climate change, his campaign and third-party experts have said.

Mr. Buttigieg, Mr. Biden's nominee to lead the Transportation Department, told the Senate Commerce Committee that he would pursue the administration's goals to drive federal spending on roads, rails and bridges.

"This is our opportunity to literally do the building part in 'Build Back Better,'" Mr. Buttigieg said, alluding to Mr. Biden's campaign slogan.

Republicans, now in the Congressional minority, have begun to express skepticism about federal spending after four years of relatively robust highway spending packages under the Trump administration.

In addition to talks about building infrastructure, said Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.), "the other thing that enjoys bipartisan popularity around here is not paying for it."

He told Mr. Buttigieg: "I know this isn't the place for you to get specific about ways to pay for it. You'd be crazy to do that at a hearing like this."

The committee didn't take a vote Thursday. If it recommends approval of Mr. Buttigieg's nomination, the full Senate must still vote to confirm his appointment.

Like Mr. Biden, and numerous politicians before him, Mr. Buttigieg suggested that there might be bipartisan agreement to invest in repairs and improvements to the country's highways, railroads and other transportation infrastructure.

"We also have a lot of work to do to improve the infrastructure in this country, a mission that will not only keep more people safe but will grow our economy as we look to the future," Mr. Buttigieg said. "Now is the time. And I believe we have a real chance to deliver for the American people."

Infrastructure isn't as easy an issue as political candidates and elected officials often say. Efforts by the staff of former President Donald Trump to pivot to "infrastructure week" were a running joke on Capitol Hill by the end of his four years in Washington.

And even former President Barack Obama's 2009 stimulus package -- a massive spending injection intended to spur the country out of recession that was overseen by Mr. Biden -- generated controversy and gridlock over which infrastructure projects were deemed "shovel ready" and which were derided as wasteful.

Mr. Buttigieg said his background as a small-city mayor would inform his views on issues like improving railroad access in areas outside the busy Northeast Corridor, and refining DOT grant programs to be user friendly, especially for local governments that lack the full-time planning and grant-writing operations of large counties and cities.

As usual in confirmation hearings, he also handled more parochial goals. Sen. Todd Young, (R., Ind.) secured a promise from Mr. Buttigieg that he would return home to visit their mutual home state. Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.), the outgoing committee chairman, got Mr. Buttigieg to commit to studying the revival of Gulf Coast Amtrak train service, which has been out of commission since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.), who will become chairman when Senate leaders formalize their governing pact for the chamber, focused on the fallout from two fatal crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX, which focused lawmakers' attention on the degree to which the Federal Aviation Administration has outsourced some safety certification procedures to plane manufacturers.

Mr. Buttigieg said he agreed on the "need to make sure engineers at the FAA are in the driver's seat when it comes to safety."

When Ms. Cantwell pressed him, asking if he was "willing to make changes in personnel, if necessary," Mr. Buttigieg replied, "Yes."

Write to Ted Mann at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 21, 2021 15:21 ET (20:21 GMT)

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