Buttigieg Trades Barbs With House Republicans Over Government Shutdown, Electric Vehicles

‘You can see that I serve here in Congress with some of the greatest minds of the 19th century,’ Congressman Jared Huffman says at the hearing.

AP/Matt Rourke, file
The transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, at Philadelphia on January 14, 2022. AP/Matt Rourke, file

The American transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, in testimony before Congress Wednesday, sparred with Republicans over a potential government shutdown and the administration’s policy on electric vehicles.

In testimony before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Mr. Buttigieg said that a government shutdown, which could begin on October 1, would delay the hiring of new air traffic controllers and would come “at the exactly wrong moment.”

“We now have 2,600 air traffic controllers in training. A government shutdown would stop that training,” Mr. Buttigieg said. “Even a shutdown lasting a few weeks could set us back by months or more because of how complex that training is.”

Mr. Buttigieg went on to say: “We cannot afford that kind of politically driven disruption at the very moment when we finally have those air traffic control workforce numbers headed in the right direction.”

Staffing shortages among air traffic controllers have been a persistent issue for the Federal Aviation Authority, with the government now employing about 1,200 fewer controllers than it did a decade ago. The shortage has led to service changes at airports at New York City, for one, where the agency says there are not enough controllers to handle normal traffic levels.

Mr. Buttigieg also prodded House Republicans over what has become a favorite talking point in recent weeks — electric vehicles, which have become a more prominent topic as administration policy is caught up in the United Auto Workers dispute with the Big Three. 

Congressman Scott Perry said during the hearing that the administration was subsidizing vehicles for people he calls “coastal elites,” asking Mr. Buttigieg to explain his support for the policy.

“I don’t know if you can justify, or how you justify, forcing my constituents to pay for EVs and EV infrastructure for coastal elites and wealthy people, but somehow you do,” Mr. Perry said.

When Mr. Buttigieg began to respond, saying, “wealthy people were specifically excluded from the Inflation Reduction Act,” Mr. Perry interrupted by saying it doesn’t matter if the proportion of electric vehicles owned by wealthy Americans is decreasing because “the people I represent can’t afford them today, sir.”

Mr. Buttigieg then responded by asking why Mr. Perry was opposed to cutting the cost of electric vehicles, to which Mr. Perry responded, “I’m not against cutting costs, the market should do it.”

“Respectfully congressman, if you were of the view that there should be no subsidies to propulsion vehicles then are you opposed to oil and gas subsidies,” Mr. Buttigieg responded.

Mr. Perry then accused Mr. Buttigieg and President Biden of trying to “kill” the auto industry. Mr. Buttigieg said, “I’ll always be with auto jobs being preserved.”

Another exchange over electric vehicles, this time between Mr. Buttigieg and Congressman Doug LaMalfa, devolved into mockery. In response to Mr. Buttigieg’s statement that “climate change is real,” Mr. LaMalfa said, “Yeah, this one’s called autumn, sir.”

“That’s the season changing, which, respectfully, is not the same thing as the climate changing,” Mr. Buttigieg responded.

When Mr. Buttigieg went on to explain why he thinks confronting climate change is necessary, Mr. LaMalfa cut him off by claiming that attempting to limit CO2 emissions will “bankrupt all of us.”

When the chairman recognized the next speaker, Congressman Jared Huffman, Mr. Huffman said, “You can see that I serve here in Congress with some of the greatest minds of the 19th century.”

The New York Sun

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