Pete Buttigieg wins Senate committee vote as Biden transport secretary

Buttigieg listens during his committee confirmation hearing in Washington, Jan 21, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Pete Buttigieg, a former mayor who challenged Joe Biden for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, won US Senate Commerce Committee approval on Wednesday (Jan 27), 21-3, to head the US Transportation Department.

The full Senate will cast a final vote as early as this week on Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who will oversee aviation, highways, vehicles, pipelines and transit as Biden's secretary of transportation.

Biden, who entered the White House a week ago, has proposed US$20 billion (S$26 billion) in additional government assistance to help US transit systems struggling with a massive falloff in ridership amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Congress has allocated US$39 billion in emergency funding for transit systems, including US$14 billion approved last month, and US$65 billion in government loans and bailouts to US passenger airlines.

Lawmakers awarded US$12 billion to airports and US$2 billion to the Amtrak passenger train service.

Last week, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson wrote Buttigieg asking him to immediately authorise the implementation of New York's congestion pricing plan requiring drivers to pay a surcharge in certain heavily trafficked Manhattan neighbourhoods.

The plan to impose tolls on drivers entering Manhattan below 60th Street is expected to raise up to US$1 billion in annual revenue.

Buttigieg must decide whether to fund a planned US$13 billion tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey in the heavily travelled Northeast rail corridor. Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said the Trump administration delayed a key Environmental Impact Statement for years.

Biden wants to dramatically boost spending on US infrastructure and vows to boost fuel economy standards that were slashed under Trump and to replace the government's vehicle fleet with electric vehicles.

Past President Donald Trump never had a Senate-confirmed head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which has numerous ongoing auto safety investigations.

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