With less than a month to go before mid-term elections, a lot is at stake for both the trucking industry and the country as a whole. The big question is: Can the Republicans regain control of Congress?
According to Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, it may happen. Sabato, writing in a report on Sept. 2, suggests Republicans may pick up as many as 47 seats in the House and eight, but perhaps as many as 10, seats in the Senate. Republicans need to gain 10 seats to take full control of the Senate.
"We expect Republicans to pick off at least a couple of these states: California, Illinois, Nevada, Washington and Wisconsin," Sabato writes of the Senate races.
Whether they do that or not, this election could have a significant impact on the trucking industry moving forward. With the highway reauthorization bill going nowhere fast, and a seemingly endless list of new regulations coming down through the pipeline, the makeup of the House and Senate may dictate both the immediate and long-term future for the industry.
"Our business is made up of large and small corporations and every one of them has something at stake in this election," Dan Stanley, senior vice president & chief of staff for the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), said.
Stanley said any Republican gains would lead to a more conservative Congress. While positive in some cases for business, that could be problematic for infrastructure repairs and improvement. "A more conservative Congress is less likely to increase the fuel tax that is the most effective way to fund the Highway Trust Fund," Stanley said.
But at the same time, more Republican power might lead to a smoother direction for the industry. "You'd probably see more sensitivity to not over-regulate [the industry]," said Kirk Clinkenbeard of the Potomac Advocates.
Many incumbents are fighting against the tide, it seems. California Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) is in a near dead-heat with her Republican opponent, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, according to polls. Her struggles are not unique, as a number of incumbents lost primary elections.
"To have so many incumbents lose in primaries and we're not even in the [general] election yet, we know there are going to be changes," Clinkenbeard said. "This is an election on the economy and the policies on the economy."
President Barack Obama's performance is coming under increasing fire, according to more and more polls. Results show that fewer than half of all Americans believe the President is doing a good job. He's not faring any better when it comes to the economy. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted Aug. 20 through Sept. 2, 44% said they "strongly" disapproved of his handling of the economy vs. just 41% who approved.
Just as interesting, that same poll indicated that 37% of Americans said there would be no effect on the economy if Republicans take control of Congress.
For trucking, though, Republicans taking control may have an effect. Clinkenbeard stated that Republican control may mean tax changes, particularly regarding the Bush tax cuts for wealthy Americans. "I think the major change you'd see is a change in tax policies," Clinkenbeard said. "Trucking and many other industries have a lot of equipment and employees, so any change" could be beneficial.
Stanley said that ultimately American businesses just need direction from their leaders. "A clearer direction will certainly be settling to the industry," he said.