The trucking industry is looking forward to a Republican-controlled Congress next year that it believes will be more amenable to its concerns.
“We'll have a better chance to present our point of view,” said an ATA official. “Our concerns will be somewhat better received.” The official noted that the past two years have been pretty good for the trucking lobby but the opportunity to present its case to a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Senate and Administration will make life easier.
The industry is counting on the traditional wisdom that Republicans are more aligned with the interests of business than the consumer, more interested in tax cuts, less interested in regulation and have no interest in raising the minimum wage. With the Administration invoking the Taft-Hartley Act to end the recent West Coast port lockout, it has also established an anti-labor union stance that may spill over to Congress.
The 108th Congress brings with it some unexpected transportation expertise with former Sec. of Transportation Elizabeth Dole, R-NC, winning a Senate seat. At the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, James Inhofe, R-OK, takes a seat from Republican-turned-Independent Jim Jeffords of Vermont.
Inhofe has been a staunch supporter of the trucking industry and believes that states — not the federal government — should dictate how federal highway dollars are spent.
For years, states that give more in highway taxes than they receive, aka “donor” states, have been arguing for the money to be spent where it was generated. The fight may now move closer to the donor state's advantage. With the reauthorization of the six-year $216-billion Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century up for grabs, the fight will be contentious but seems to favor proponents of state control.
In the House, the main leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will probably stay as is, with Don Young, R-AK, as chairman, Thomas Petri, R-WI., as the next ranking Republican and chairman of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee. James Oberstar, D-MN, will remain as ranking Democrat. Robert Borski, D-PA, is retiring, leaving a spot open in the leadership, and Nick J. Rahall II, D-WV, is the front-runner to take Borski's position.
The other big legislative issue will be homeland security. With a Republican-led Congress, chances are very good that President Bush will get most if not all of what he wants in the Homeland Security bill. The legislation aims to establish a cabinet level agency that includes the Transportation Security Administration.
The agency will be responsible for trucking and port security, hazardous-materials transport, driver screening, and terrorism insurance. How deeply they will get involved in trucking security remains to be seen; initial interest may be focused on airports, ports and rail.
Higher fuel taxes are generally a hard sell to Republicans, but tax revenues for the direct construction of highways and bridges may have a chance.
Perhaps the most important aspect of having a Republican-controlled Congress is its siding with the Administration and industry on less stringent regulations. During the past two years, Democrats in Congress have been able to thwart attempts at watering down regulations through legislation that would cut off agency funding for specific regulations. This tactic will be nearly impossible to pursue with Republicans in charge.
With the lame duck Congress officially in session until January, there will be no surprises in transportation legislation until then. However, once the new Congress convenes and committee leadership slots are filled, the power of having Congress and the White House under one party will come into full swing.