WASHINGTON — Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood defended his department’s 2012 budget request to a Senate committee on Wednesday. The Obama administration is seeking a significant increase in transportation spending to help build out U.S. infrastructure as part of its “winning the future” campaign.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, was most concerned with working alongside LaHood to create a budget that both Congress and the administration live with. The most-common line heard from the senator during the hearing from both sides was, “we’ll work with you on this.”

Boxer, looking for ways to support President Barack Obama’s call for infrastructure spending, suggested LaHood’s department use the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, which provides federal credit assistance to finance surface transportation projects. LaHood agreed to look more into using the loan program, but also mentioned combining it with other programs such as an infrastructure bank.

Explaining how he’s trying to save money, LaHood emphasized that he has collapsed as many as 50 programs into five, eliminating much of the unnecessary bureaucracy that might bog down decisions.

The hearing took an interesting tone as Boxer skipped opening statements in order to make a 3 p.m. vote on this year’s budget. LaHood then gave a quick summary of his statement, with a majority of the time spent taking questions from senators, who agreed they needed to invite LaHood back for a more thorough review.

Obama’s proposed 2012 budget for the Federal Highway Administration, a part of the overall Transportation spending plan, adds up to a four percent increase from 2010 and focuses on accomplishing four broad goals:

  • Building the future
  • Spurring innovation
  • Ensuring safety
  • Reforming government and exercising responsibility

The budget includes a six-year, $556 billion surface reauthorization plan “that will transform the way we manage surface transportation for the future,” read LaHood’s statement. The initial funding for this proposal would include $50 billion up-front to jump start improvements in highway, rail, transit and aviation systems.