White House throws LaHood at GOP

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood lambasted Congress Wednesday for stopping airport-related construction, but repeatedly declined to say if President Barack Obama would urge Democrats to compromise.

LaHood’s statements echo the White House’s increasing efforts to portray Congress as the impediment to economic growth as the 2012 election approaches. (RELATED: Obama mum on details from secret AFL-CIO meeting; critics bill it as more WH union favoritism)

When pressed by reporters on whether Obama would restart the construction by shifting already appropriated funds, or would lobby Democrats for a compromise deal, LaHood simply asserted, “All of my efforts are to persuade Congress to pass a clean bill … I’m focusing my attention like a laser beam on Congress.”

LaHood’s focus on Congress was matched by White House spokesman Jay Carney, who deflected questions about possible intervention by Obama in the dispute, saying, “It is not acceptable for Congress to say ‘It is not my business to take care of my business.’”

LaHood, the sole Republican in Obama’s cabinet, took to the White House’s press podium today, just ahead of Carney’s daily briefing.

Airport-related construction projects were halted after House Republicans cut the Federal Aviation Administration’s Essential Air Service program budget by $16 million. Senate Democrats blocked the funding bill in order to protect construction at airports in several Democratic legislators’ districts, say Republican Hill staffers.

LaHood blamed Congress generally — not just Republicans — for idling 4,000 FAA employees and 70,000 construction workers. “You’ve heard all the great speeches on debts and deficits for the last few weeks,” he said. “Congress needs to come back [from its August recess], resolve their differences, compromise and put our neighbors and colleagues back to work. They should not leave 74,000 people hanging out there.”

The White House is increasingly portraying the president as the defender of ordinary Americans’ interests against a partisan and paralyzed Congress. “There are measures that can be taken right away if Congress is interested in creating jobs,” Carney said today. “It is wholly inappropriate for Congress to go on vacation and leave this hanging … This is a crisis created by Congress, yet again.”

President Obama’s approval ratings are well below 50 percent, partly because of the stalled economy and a national unemployment rate of at least 9.2 percent.