As the new Congress convened in January with a Republican-controlled House, a different tone was developing in Washington. A tone that was evident in President Barack Obama's State of the Union address. A tone that calls for cooperation and civility among the parties.
A lasting theme, perhaps? We'll see. Politics have a funny way of changing people's behavior. Will cooperation suddenly go out the window if Republicans believe they have a very real chance to win the White House in 2012? Will ideals become more important for Democrats than moving the country forward? It wouldn't be the first time the political goals got in the way of the betterment of society.
Obama spoke about whether Democrats and Republicans can set aside their differences to work together. “I believe we can,” he said. “And I believe we must. That's what the people who sent us here expect of us.”
For now, at least, that idea of cooperation is permeating through Washington. In his speech, Obama stated that he wants to continue building a 21st century transportation system while also stating that he wants a five-year freeze on domestic spending.
At the first meeting of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee as part of the 112th Congress, committee chair John Mica (R-FL) echoed Obama's call for cooperation and infrastructure development. “We must continue building America's infrastructure, but we must do so in a responsible manner that doesn't burden the taxpayers,” he said.
In his speech, Obama picked up several ideas from the Republicans, including funding projects based on revenues rather than debt. Mica has said the exact same thing when it comes to the highway reauthorization bill. But before he drafts a new bill (the old one expired back in 2009), Mica wants to host public sessions to gather input from the industry and other concerned parties on what the new highway reauthorization bill should include.
At this point, Mica seems to be sticking to the current theme in Washington. We won't know the true extent of that until we see a final highway bill and whether the public sessions were anything more than lip service.
We'll also have to wait and see if the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is following this lead. Its proposed hours-of-service (HOS) regulations, unveiled just before Christmas following months of “listening sessions” with the public and industry stakeholders, met with a resounding thud. It seems nearly everyone — from trucking lobbies, to carriers, to Joe Driver — has some issue with the proposal.
In journalism, I was taught that oftentimes the most complete story is the one that leaves everyone unhappy in one way or another. Then I guess FMCSA hit a home run with this one.
As FMCSA pours through the thousands of comments to formulate the final HOS rule, and as Mica and the T&I Committee meet with the public to gather ideas on how the final highway reauthorization bill should look, we'll learn a lot more about this radical idea called cooperation.
Is this the beginning of a new era, or will politics as usual continue?
Brian Straight is Fleet Owner' s managing editor. He can be reached at [email protected]