By Alan Wirzbicki, Globe correspondent
WASHINGTON -- Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood defended the pro-mass transit policies of the Obama administration today, and fired back at conservative writer George Will, who devoted an entire column to attacking LaHood earlier this week.
"We have to create opportunities for people who want to ride a bike or walk or take a streetcar," he said. "The only person that I've heard of who objects to this is George Will."
Will wrote a column in Newsweek magazine criticizing the secretary, whom he dubbed "Secretary of Behavior Modification," for supporting measures to wean commuters off automobiles.
LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, made his remarks during a speech at the National Press Club about Obama's economic stimulus plan, which directed billions to transit and high-speed rail, and the upcoming transportation bill. The Obama administration hopes the bill, which sets federal policy for the next five years, will shift more money into public transportation.
One of only two Republicans in the Obama cabinet, LaHood was named to the post in part to serve as the president's ambassador to Congressional Republicans. He acknowledged that efforts to win GOP support for the stimulus had failed, but said he believed more Republicans would support the Obama administration on healthcare and climate change legislation that is also expected this year.
In a question-and-answer session following his remarks, Lahood expressed exasperation with the suggestion from some of his fellow Republicans that redirecting federal transportation money from highways to other modes of transportation amounted to government meddling in individual decisions.
"About everything we do around here is government intrusion into people's lives," he said.
"It is a way to coerce people out of their cars. Yeah."
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.