Washington Insider
Making sausage

By Rod Nofziger
OOIDA director of government affairs


Everybody knows that politics is a messy business. The same holds true for the process by which a bill becomes law. In varying degrees, everyone agrees that the legislative process on Capitol Hill is in need of reform. However, while we should all continue to work toward making that process better, we still have to deal with the current realities of that process.

One of those realities is that there is a whole lot more complexity to the process by which a bill becomes law than what we all learned back in school. Unfortunately, having a noble cause and a truckload of public support does not automatically translate into congressional action.

Numerous factors that come into play – competing governmental priorities, backlog of pending bills, limited Congressional time and resources, etc. – can stand in the way of moving bills through the legislative process.

Achieving success in the legislative process with a bill requires dedicating a tremendous amount of time, energy and resources along with taking advantage of the openings and opportunities that present themselves from time to time. Even getting an amendment added onto a piece of legislation can take a herculean effort and quite a bit of luck.

I cannot think of a better example of how messy the legislative process is than what ultimately led up to the Obama administration ending the cross-border trucking pilot program with Mexico in March.

Even though the U.S. House and Senate had passed legislation over the course of the past few years that would have reined in and perhaps terminated the cross-border pilot program, the U.S. DOT continued to run the program and had even extended its operation until at least 2010.

As of February of this year, Mexico-domiciled trucks that were a part of the pilot program continued to operate in the U.S., leading some folks to think that President Obama would not be following through with his campaign pledge to end the program.

With these factors in mind and with no other viable, near-term legislative opportunities on the horizon, OOIDA made the decision to continue to fully support a provision in the controversial 2009 Omnibus Appropriations bill that would remove funding for the cross-border pilot program.

The “omnibus” was a massive spending bill left over from last year, which provided funding for federal agencies and programs. It was controversial because of the billions of dollars of earmarks that were included in it as well as the fact that it came about on the heels of the huge American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka “The Stimulus bill”).

Despite all of the heated debate that surrounded it, everyone on Capitol Hill knew the omnibus was going to pass in some form or fashion and was going to be signed into law by the president. Without the passage of an appropriations bill in early March, the federal government and its functions would have had to shut down for lack of funding.

Without endorsing the overall omnibus bill, OOIDA worked to support the cross-border trucking provision it contained. Thousands of truckers from across the country called on their lawmakers to keep the cross-border trucking provision intact. In the end, after being chopped down in size, the bill passed the House and the Senate and President Obama signed it into law. On March 19, the cross-border trucking pilot program with Mexico was officially terminated.

While working within the confines of that bill was certainly not the preferred means of dealing with the cross-border program, in this case the legislative process worked for truckers.

The legislative process on Capitol Hill is indeed unwieldy, perplexing and messy. However, that fact is the reason truckers should be as knowledgeable and as engaged in the process as their time allows. Without that involvement, the legislative process will not improve and will certainly not be working for the benefit of truckers. LL