Washington Insider
Elections and consequences

By Ben Siegrist, Assistant Director of Legislative Affairs

There’s a saying in Washington that elections have consequences. For truckers, the 2014 mid-term elections provided some pretty big consequences on the congressional map. While the 24-hour news networks and talking heads are busy calling this election a “sweep” or a “shellacking” by Republicans, it’s important for truckers and OOIDA members to understand what the new Senate majority and expanded Republican House majority mean for our industry.

First, with power changing hands from Democrats to Republicans in the Senate, control of important committees – and therefore control of the trucking policy coming from those committees – will soon be under the leadership of some faces both new and familiar.

Beginning in January, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which holds large jurisdiction over highway construction, will be chaired by Republican Senator Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma. While Inhofe and his Democrat counterpart, Barbara Boxer from California, couldn’t be further apart on environmental issues, they have an extremely close relationship on infrastructure issues.

The Senate Commerce Committee will also be seeing some big changes in leadership. Republican John Thune from South Dakota will be replacing the retiring Jay Rockefeller as head of the full committee. And at the Surface Transportation Subcommittee, the chairmanship is yet to be determined. However, in both cases, new chairman will play an integral role in the development of the next highway bill, hopefully one that includes FMCSA reforms.

As OOIDA seeks driver training standards and a halt to the outpouring of onerous regulation from FMCSA, NHTSA, and other DOT agencies, engaging with these committees, and their chairmen, will be critical in the fight to achieve our goals. Inhofe worked to ensure that Jason’s Law was included in the latest highway bill. Thune and Blunt have both been critical of FMCSA policies like CSA and HOS changes, so they have a good record so far.

On the House side of the building, Democrat Nick Rahall of West Virginia, the ranking member of the House Transportation Committee, and one of the most knowledgeable lawmakers on transportation policy, will not be returning for the next Congress. Replaced by his Republican opponent on Election Day, Rahall’s exit opens up the top spot for Democrats on this extremely important House committee. Thus far, two Democrats have thrown their hat in the ring, with Peter DeFazio of Oregon strongly positioned to win a promotion.

DeFazio has been a strong advocate for addressing uncompensated detention time for truckers as well as critiquing the cross-border trucking program with Mexico. His efforts in the past reflect a deep understanding of the day-to-day workings of trucking. Look for DeFazio and committee chairman Bill Shuster, a Republican from Pennsylvania, another long-standing trucking ally who has been key on issues over the past two years, to work to navigate a new reauthorization bill through the House by focusing on bipartisan cooperation.

Republican Sam Graves of Missouri is set to take the helm of the Highway Subcommittee. Graves, who takes over for retiring Republican Tom Petri of Wisconsin, has been critical on issues such as working to stop FMCSA’s push to increase insurance requirements. Graves’ Democratic counterpart is Eleanor Holmes Norton of D.C., who has shown a great deal of interest in driver training and other issues.

Overall, these are some positive steps forward for small-business truckers; however, the devil is in the details. For instance, many lawmakers are advocates of tolling and public-private partnerships.

In all, the results on Election Day were much more than any candidate or party. With changes coming to Washington, it remains important that truckers stay vigilant of the actions that these new chairmen will be working on.

As they take on the responsibilities of their new roles, those of us in trucking must be prepared to carry our message to them and let them know that we want smart policy. Here’s hoping the 114th Congress will listen and do likewise. LL