WASHINGTON — Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the most prominent Republican in President Barack Obama's administration, accused GOP House members Friday of putting their hope for the president to fail ahead of working toward solving the nation's problems.
Responding to a question about why it was so difficult to get big infrastructure projects built right now, LaHood told a transportation conference that "some people don't want Obama to be successful."
"A big percentage of the Republicans that were elected this time came here to do zero, and that's what they've done," he said. Those lawmakers, he said, have obstructed other people who are trying to get things done.
LaHood's remarks "are ironic considering the speaker had a good conversation with the president yesterday about infrastructure," Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Friday.
Boehner and the president talked about jobs legislation in a 10-minute phone call Thursday. Boehner told Obama that Republicans are willing to address new transportation and infrastructure spending but "in a fiscally responsible way."
LaHood has strong Republican credentials. He was a GOP congressman from Illinois for 14 years until he retired in 2008. Before that, he was a top aide to House Republican leader Bob Michel of Illinois. During his tenure in Congress, LaHood worked closely with GOP House speakers, particularly Dennis Hastert of Illinois.
"Here we are almost 12 months from the election and there are some people in Congress — look there are probably 40 people, 40 Republicans, elected to the House to come here to do nothing," Lahood said. "That's why they felt they were elected."
LaHood was apparently referring to tea party-aligned Republicans who are reluctant to compromise on their goal of reducing the size and power of the federal government.
"When I was elected in '94 we had a very reform-minded class, 82 new people, but they came here to do something, to solve problems," he said. "Almost always in the past when people have run for Congress, they ran for Congress on the opportunity to help solve the problems of America."
LaHood has been meeting with GOP lawmakers, trying to generate support for Obama's $447 billion jobs package, which Senate Republicans killed in a Tuesday night vote. House Republicans have introduced their own jobs plan, which doesn't include any of Obama's proposals.
Despite what he calls GOP obstruction, LaHood predicted Congress will pass a major transportation spending bill before next year's election.
"They know people are hurting and they know their popularity in their districts is not too good right now," he said. "You can't put people back to work with the same old slogans about cutting taxes and tax breaks for small businesses. That only goes so far."