Passing Zone

The Not-So-New Capitol Hill Players…

January 13, 2017

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Photo: Architect of the Capitol
Photo: Architect of the Capitol

While professional pundits and coffee klatschers still debate whether Donald Trump’s election was an historic upset or merely inevitable, his tenure in the Oval Office will be markedly different—in tone, style and substance— than has been that of President Obama. 

How the Trump Presidency ultimately pans out, of course, remains to be seen. But a key influence on how well the 45th President might succeed as an agent of change is as clear as the electoral-college vote— the GOP establishment still holds sway on Capitol Hill.

The Democratic Party gained only six House seats in 2016, giving the GOP a 241-194 majority.

In the Senate, only two seats were gained by Democrats. When you count the two Independent senators who caucus with the Democrats, the Republicans end up with a 52-48 edge. So, as of Inauguration Day, it will be the first time since 2011 that one party has occupied the White House and controlled both the House and Senate.

The newly seated 115th Congress (Jan. 2017 to Jan. 2019) is virtually a mirror image of the preceding body. That’s reflected in the return of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and their chief lieutenants to their leadership posts. 

Not surprisingly, then, key transportation leaders on Capitol Hill will again be taking up their prior committee and subcommittee chairmanships to play major roles in passing infrastructure spending bills, safety regulations and other legislation that may impact trucking specifically and U.S. business generally over the next four years. 

Let’s start with arguably the most prominent face of transportation in Congress, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA).  He is again serving as Chairman of the pivotal Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The committee handles legislation affecting all modes of transportation and is also tasked with oversight of the Department of Transportation. Shuster has chaired the committee since 2014.

Shuster was elected to his ninth term in November by decisively beating his Tea Party-backed opponent, who had narrowly lost the Republican primary but then garnered enough write-in votes to run as a Democrat. 

He said in a statement that in the last Congress, his committee was able by “working across the aisle” to pass such key legislation as the most recent highway bill, the FAST Act, as well as other infrastructure-related measures. “We have a unique opportunity to accomplish a great deal for the American people with a president-elect who is focused on improving the nation’s infrastructure,” Shuster stated.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) will serve again as the ranking member of the House Transportation Committee. And, presumably, Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) will again chair the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, which is specifically charged with overseeing the development of transportation policy.

In the Senate, there are several committees that oversee transportation funding and issues. The gavel for the Environment and Public Works Committee, which writes the main policy portion of highway bills, has been passed to Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), who succeeds Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). Serving as ranking member of the committee is Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE). No one has yet been named as the new chair of the committee’s Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee.

Last but not least is the Senate Commerce Committee, charged with overseeing safety policy. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) has returned as chairman and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) as ranking member. 

Also returning to the same leadership post is Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NB), who is again chairing the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is serving as the subcommittee’s ranking member.

In 2015, Sen. Fischer was instrumental in attaching legislation to the FAST Act highway bill that requires a more through justification for new regulations by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. 

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David Cullen

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Executive Editor David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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