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Senate commerce panel approves Foxx as U.S. transportation secretary

By Curtis Tate
McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON A Senate panel on Monday unanimously confirmed Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx to be the next U.S. transportation secretary, a final step toward what’s expected to be an easy confirmation by the full Senate.

Foxx had a smooth confirmation hearing last month before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, drawing praise from both Democrats and Republicans in a Capitol better known in recent years for polarization.

Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., who helped introduce Foxx to the committee, said in a statement that she was pleased his nomination was moving forward.

“Anthony has a proven record of success, and while he will be missed in North Carolina, the entire country will benefit from his leadership at the Transportation Department,” she said.

Even Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., a critic of the department’s handling of sequestration, said he looked forward to working with Foxx and said the full Senate would vote in the next couple of weeks. The mandatory spending cuts led the Federal Aviation Administration to temporarily furlough air-traffic controllers, a move that many Republicans criticized.

“Mayor Foxx has assured me that he will improve communication with the commerce committee and other members of Congress and I look forward to working with him to address the transportation challenges facing our country,” Thune, the committee’s ranking Republican, said in a statement.

As secretary, Foxx would oversee the agencies within the department that regulate the nation’s rail, aviation, transit and highway systems.

One of the challenges Foxx would confront at the department right away: The nation has a massive backlog of infrastructure repairs and not enough funding. The federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents a gallon was last raised in 1993 and has not kept up with inflation or the increased fuel efficiency of cars. The tax supports the Highway Trust Fund, which for decades has funded highway and transit construction and maintenance.

The country’s aging infrastructure has the potential to compromise public safety, which Foxx has identified as the department’s first priority.

In the weeks since Foxx’s committee hearing, a major highway bridge partially collapsed in Washington state, two freight trains collided in Missouri and another derailed and caught fire in Maryland.

The committee also on Monday unanimously approved Chicago businesswoman Penny Pritzker to be the next secretary of commerce. Pritzker’s nomination was thought to be more controversial because of her fundraising efforts for President Barack Obama. Foxx and Pritzker are both staunch allies of the president, and in the end they drew little of the criticism that other Cabinet nominees have faced.

In a statement, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the commerce committee’s chairman, called Foxx and Pritzker excellent choices.

“There has been strong bipartisan support for these nominees, and it was evident again today when they were both voted unanimously out of the commerce committee,” Rockefeller said. “I urge my colleagues to act quickly now to schedule votes on their nominations.”

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