With the 2010 elections behind us we can now look forward to the 112th Congress and what it might have in store for the trucking industry. There are several important trucking issues that the new Congress should address, but there is no guarantee that they will make progress on them. Highway funding, parking safety, Mexican trucking, and other hefty issues will rear their head in 2011, but will there be any resolution?
The U.S. House of Representatives, which the Republicans took control of, is where the greatest change occurred. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will remain the leader of the House Democrats, but Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, is the new Speaker of the House. In a somewhat surprising election result, longtime House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar lost his re-election bid. Not only was this a gain for the Republicans, but it means the trucking industry has a new committee chairman. At the time of this writing, that chairmanship has not yet been assigned, but it is likely to go to Rep. John L. Mica, R-Fla.
Oberstar’s former committee may have the most transportation-related work to do in the upcoming Congress. The Highway Trust Fund continues to operate on a deficit. This is the fund that pays for road improvements and other highway infrastructure improvements. The real challenge is that the gas tax simply isn’t covering expenses (though some might argue earmarks not related to highways are helping cause this deficit). Newly elected Republicans have suggested one of the first things they will do during the next Congress is to ban earmarks, so that could be an interesting and distracting debate that could keep officials focused on issues other than infrastructure and potentially kill current plans.
Oberstar has urged Congress to approve a one-year extension of the current highway legislation so the new Congress can have time to “come to agreement on a funding mechanism for a six-year bill.” This is the same omnibus funding bill that has failed to leave the floor of the House the last two years. The challenge for Oberstar and his recommendation was that the remainder of 2010 was a lame-duck session in Congress. Yes, they should extend the current bill that they failed to fully renew after it officially expired on Sept. 30, 2009, but they also needed to pass a continuing resolution to make certain the federal government can operate after Dec. 3, 2010. As it turns out, they failed to pass this omnibus bill, too.
Though the Republicans in the Senate gained five seats, the Democrats maintained control of the upper house. The five additional Republican seats all but guarantee numerous opportunities for stalemates on major policy issues – possibly including the Major Highway Bill. The 112th Congress will also have its hands full with environmental-, safety- and trade-related issues. The Obama administration continues to negotiate and consider reinstituting the cross-border trucking program with Mexico. And Congress will likely see a new bill introduced to address truck parking safety (Jason’s Law).
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Should those of us in the trucking industry be excited by the new makeup of Congress? It’s tough to gauge, but probably not. The first several months will be devoted to partisan bickering as those newly elected to Congress attempt to reverse many of the steps the Obama administration has taken. Any reversal attempts on major issues like health reform will likely be unsuccessful and will only serve to divert resources from those issues that can successfully be addressed – like actually doing their truck driver job and passing an omnibus highway funding bill.
So, expect more of the same partisanship. And expect it to intensify as we approach the end of 2011 and enter the 2012 election cycle. It’s interesting how change can often bring more status quo.