Meet the D.C. power crowd
A new Congress means new leadership on important committees that make decisions about trucking and transportation. Here’s how it’s shaping up.

By David Tanner, senior editor

Rep. Bill Shuster
Rep. Bill Shuster
R-Pa.
Rep. Peter DeFazio
Rep. Peter DeFazio
D-Ore.
Sen. James Inhofe
Sen. James Inhofe
R-Okla.
Sen. Barbara Boxer
Sen. Barbara Boxer
D-Calif.
Sen. Deb Fisher
Sen. Deb Fisher
R-Neb.
Sen. Cory Booker
Sen. Cory Booker
D-N.J.
Sen. John Barrasso
Sen. John Barrasso
R-Wyo.
Sen. Tom Carper
Sen. Tom Carper
D-Del.
Sen. John Thune
Sen. John Thune
R-S.D.
Sen. Bill Nelson
Sen. Bill Nelson
D-Fla.
Rep. Same Graves
Rep. Sam Graves
R-Mo.

The 114th Congress has been in session for a few weeks, and the committees that affect trucking and transportation have begun to meet.

Leadership on some of the committees changed after the fall 2014 elections, which saw the Republican Party gain control of the Senate and a few household names retire. In the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republicans built on an existing majority and added a few members to various committees.

It’s time to meet the D.C. power crowd that will be making decisions on issues related to trucking and transportation. But just because someone is not on one of the committees doesn’t mean their votes don’t count on the important issues. All members of Congress have a vote and a say in legislation.

Let’s start in the House, where the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, aka the T&I Committee, conducts the majority of the work related to trucking, highways and bridges.

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., stays on as T&I chairman. A member of Congress since 2001, Shuster has been an ally on many transportation issues and is a former chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

The highest-ranking Democrat on the T&I Committee is Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon who moved up after Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.V., lost his re-election bid in the fall. DeFazio is an ardent opponent of the cross-border trucking pilot program with Mexico and is not afraid to ask the tough questions.

Within the T&I Committee is the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. The former subcommittee chairman, Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., retired in 2014, leaving the door open for Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., to become chairman. The Democrats had yet to name a ranking member.

“The key lawmakers on these committees are on the front lines of transportation issues and will be drafting highway and motor carrier provisions,” said OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Ryan Bowley.

Next up, we’ll visit the U.S. Senate, where transportation policy, funding and motor carrier safety are spread out among multiple committees.

For issues related to highways, bridges and infrastructure, the Environment and Public Works Committee, known as EPW, carries much of the load.

The Senate leadership change ushered in a new chairman, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and moved Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to the position of ranking member.

Inhofe, a conservative Republican, and Boxer, a liberal Democrat, rarely fall on the same side of a political issue – unless it involves improving America’s transportation infrastructure.

Within the EPW Committee is the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

At press time, it looks as if Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., will chair the subcommittee with Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the ranking Democrat.

Motor carrier safety policy falls to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The new chairman is Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., with Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., as ranking member in the place of former chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., who did not seek re-election in 2014.

Thune was off and running in January, discussing ways to fund highways and bridges.

Senate Commerce has an important subcommittee as well, the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security. This is where specific issues such as electronic logging devices, speed limiters, and truck size and weight are discussed.

Sen. Deb. Fischer, R-Neb., was named the new chairman of the subcommittee and the ranking Democrat is Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

OOIDA’s Washington, D.C., staff is on the ground to meet with and educate lawmakers and their staffs on important issues affecting professional truckers, but it’s also important for the membership of the Association to establish relationships with and educate their elected officials.

“It’s important to note that the fall (2014) elections saw an increase in the Republican majority, and that means a lot of new faces on the House T&I Committee,” OOIDA’s Bowley said.

“So it’s just as important to engage the new members of a committee as it is to contact the leaders. And just because a lawmaker may not be part of a transportation committee doesn’t mean he or she won’t have an impact on transportation policy. Everybody votes.”

Editor’s note: Watch for more on the D.C. power crowd in the March-April issue of Land Line.