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Interview with Transportation Secretary LaHood

Interview with Transportation Secretary LaHood

By John King, USA - August 3, 2011

KING: Mr. Secretary, I want to get into the details of this dispute a minute. But, first, somebody watching at home, their first question when they hear FAA furloughs and inspectors being asked to put charges on their personal credit cards, they're going to think, is it safe for me to get on a plane? Is it?

RAY LAHOOD, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: It is safe, John. Safety will never be compromised. Thousands of people got to planes today, hundreds of controllers went to work today, and planes are being guided in and out of the airports safely. Actually, our safety inspectors are on the ground. They are using their own credit cards. They're on their won dimes, so to speak, because they're dedicated FAA employees.

Flying is safe. Safety will not be compromised, never has been, and never will be, John.

KING: This is one of the disputes -- it's a little bit of Washington at its worst. But I want to start with this. You know, you mentioned your inspectors are out there and you you've asked them, you know, hey, Bob, hey, Jim, use your personal credit card, I'll reimburse you later when we figure this out.

The average airline CEO makes $4.1 million a year. A United States Senator, where this thing went off the tracks, makes $174, 000 a year. You're asking a guy who on average makes $67,000 a year, has to pay his mortgage, to use his credit card to do his job right now.

Why?

LAHOOD: Well, you put a very fine point on it, John. I couldn't have said it better. The reason is, is because Congress didn't do its work. Congress is on vacation.

What I'm asking Congress to do is come back from their vacation, pass a clean bill -- which they've done on 20 other occasions -- so that the FAA people did not have to go without paychecks and a lot -- thousands of construction workers right in the middle of the construction season are out of work.

Now, I've heard a lot of speeches around here about doing jobs, getting jobs, helping to get jobs. Well, this -- what I want members of Congress to do is not only talk the talk about jobs, walk the walk. Vote to extend the FAA and put thousands of people back to work. Come back from your vacation, pass the bill, what you've done on 20 other occasions.

This is not fair to average, ordinary citizens who are out of work.

KING: You're a former Republican congressman who works for a Democratic president. I want a straight-shooting answer here.

Whose fault is it? Which party's fault is it?

The Republicans say the Democrats don't want to give up the subsidies which they say we simply can't afford right now, these huge subsidies for the rural airports. A lot of taxpayer money goes to them and not a lot of people pass through them.

Democrats say, oh, no, this is the Republicans trying to rewrite labor law right here, some say to help one airline, Delta Airlines, do some labor management business.

Who's right?

LAHOOD: Congress is wrong for going home on vacation. Congress is wrong --

KING: Which -- is one party in your view more to blame, or is this a pox on both their houses?

LAHOOD: This is Congress. Congress is wrong on this. They should not have gone on vacation. They should not have furloughed -- allowed the furlough of 4,000 FAA workers or thousands of construction workers. Congress needs to come back from their vacation, pass the bill. This is wrong what they have done to people who want to go to work and want to do a job.

Let me make one other point, John, and that is this -- we've also heard a lot of speeches about debt and deficit, and you've played a lot of them on CNN. Without this provision -- without this law in place, a billion dollars in taxes are not being collected that would have been collected. That's a billion dollars into the federal treasury.

Now, for people who care about debt and deficit, like members of Congress talk like they do, they're losing out on a billion dollars. If they come back and pass a clean bill, they'll start collecting that money. It will go in the coffers and people will start working and, paying, taxes, by the way.

KING: That's an excellent point about the money loss from the government.

I want to try one more time at this, because I've known you a while and you are a straight shooter. You sat that Congress, I'm going to assume by that, since you won't say, no, it's my Republican friends or, no, it's my Democratic friends, you say the Congress. I'm going to assume that what you're saying is that both parties are to blame for this, am I right?

LAHOOD: Congress needs to come back and pay a bill, John, they really do. This is just simply right. It's not right for average, ordinary people.

And Congress could fix this very quickly. They've fixed it very quickly on 20 other occasions. Come back, off your vacations so that people that are in vacated jobs can go back to work.

KING: Let me ask you, right now they're not due back from vacation till after Labor Day. You've asked people out there, I said on average they make $67,000 a year. That's a decent paycheck, many people would say. But if you're going to ask them over the course of the next month to continue to do this, do you worry, you tell me today, sir, you have zero doubt about the safety.

Over time what if some of those guys say, I can't afford it, I have no more room on my credit card, I can't -- these guys travel around to different airports to do these inspections. They say simply, I can't do it anymore.

Is there a risk that safety could deteriorate if we go another two, three weeks into this?

LAHOOD: Safety will never be compromised, John. It never will be.

KING: How are you going to pay them if they say I can't afford, Mr. Secretary, I'm sorry, boss, I can't put it on my card anymore? LAHOOD: We will do everything in our power to make sure that safety is never compromised, that the people that do their jobs every day will eventually be compensated for this, because they believe in safety, they believe in the work they do, they're making great sacrifice, and I know they'll never compromise safety.

And we won't either at DOT.

KING: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood talking to us tonight from the White House. Thank you, sir.

LAHOOD: Thank you, John. 

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John King, USA

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