An Obama administration and a Congress that has a greater Democratic majority than the current make-up is sure to produce changes for the nation. For trucking stakeholders, however, most of the changes will be seen in regulatory agencies such as Transportation, Environmental Protection or Labor and Energy as opposed to Congress, because the two most important transportation committees will remain much the same.
In the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, only five members will not be returning to Congress. In the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, only one member lost his re-election bid.
At press time, committee chairmanships were still being voted on, but one big change already has occurred. Henry Waxman (D-CA), has unseated John Dingell (D-MI) as chairman of the House of Representatives' powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. With the auto industry as his prime constituency, Dingell has fought against Waxman on fuel standards and environmental issues.
“The election will not likely have a dramatic impact on the membership of the House or Senate committees that have jurisdiction over trucking and highway policy matters,” said Rod Nofziger, director of government affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn.
At press time, President-elect Barack Obama had not yet chosen a Transportation Secretary, but he had ordered his transition team to review all of President Bush's executive orders, including those we don't yet know about that Bush will sign in the last days of his term. These could bring changes to the trucking industry depending upon which rules and regulations are studied.
Congressional Democrats are prepared to oppose rules they deem not in the best interests of the country, including those that concern air pollution, workplace safety, medical leave, stem-cell research, drilling on public lands and others. With at least 58 senators on the democratic side (two races have not yet been decided), Congress could invoke the Congressional Review Act, which allows it to overturn executive orders. Congress used this authority only once, in March 2001, when Bush signed a resolution to overturn the Clinton Administration's workplace ergonomics standards. Filibusters are not allowed.
At the top of Obama's to-do list, however, is the overall economy, which he hopes to bolster through the shoring up of the transportation infrastructure. This bodes well for trucking. Obama has said publicly that he wants an infrastructure bank to invest $60 billion in roads, bridges and other projects over 10 years. Clearly, more money would be necessary to fix the nation's crumbling infrastructure, but these funds would presumably be matched by private funding as well. “We'll create two million jobs by rebuilding our crumbling roads, schools and bridges,” he said.
Janet Kavinoky, director of transportation and infrastructure for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, expects presidential action on infrastructure as well. “Obama has identified infrastructure as one of the ways to strengthen the American economy,” she said. “So we would expect it to be on his list of actions both for the stimulus and longer term.”