Road work ahead !  Photo: Deborah Lockridge

Road work ahead! Photo: Deborah Lockridge

If 2017 was for trucking the year of the fearsome electronic log rule (and, yes, I am aware it will keep right on being a sword thrust in the guts of the industry throughout next year—at least), then 2018 may well end up being the year of the awesome infrastructure bill. One can hope, at least.

Money for roads and bridges might well pour down gloriously upon the nation in 2018. But that rainmaking can’t begin until the Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) and Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), together with the Trump Administration, in the person of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, get their act together.

Only once the GOP powers that be introduce legislation in Congress, whether as a massive infrastructure bill akin in scope to the behemoth tax-code remake just passed, or a package of segmented measures that collectively address national infrastructure needs, can the horse-trading and sausage-making of representative government commence in earnest.

As the New Year starts to unfold, bear in mind that Congress could have easily passed way back in early 2017 something akin to the trillion-dollar infrastructure promise shouted out by then President-elect Trump right after his election victory. That’s because funding roads and bridges is among the few things that Democrats and Republicans essentially always agree need to be paid for by the federal government.

But McConnell and Ryan opted to play politics first, initially by devoting most of the year to the furious failure of repealing Obamacare. Then they used incredibly arcane parliamentary tricks to ensure they could pass a gargantuan, once-in-a-generation tax cut package-- without the need for any Democratic support whatsoever --by year’s end.

And yes, the tax bill’s passage was a historic victory and a win that deeply pleased the GOP conservative political base and, arguably more importantly, its deepest-pocketed donors. And no one can fault Sen. McConnell and Rep. Ryan, with some assistance from President Trump, for betting the farm and winning it all. What they accomplished will be studied by political science students for generations to come.

On the other hand, one might argue -- and some already are, including none other than Mitch McConnell himself!— that by forcing through its tax scheme, the GOP overplayed its hand.  Just consider what the Kentuckian said on Dec. 21 at an event hosted by Axios Media: “I think that Democrats are not going to be interested in entitlement reform, so I would not expect to see that on the agenda.” That statement positions the Senate leader as diametrically opposed to Ryan, who has more that once signaled that he aims to cut back federal entitlement programs as soon as possible in 2018.

Infrastructure is "pretty popular with Democrats and Republicans."  -- Sen. Mitch McConnell

Infrastructure is "pretty popular with Democrats and Republicans." -- Sen. Mitch McConnell

Then, the very next day, at a year-end press conference, McConnell told reporters that “One thing you can say about this year, is that it was pretty partisan.” He added that come January, he would be “looking for areas of bipartisan agreement because that’s the way the Senate is.” Well, it is that way when its leader is not ramming bills through via special rules that preclude any minority participation in the legislative process.

But, to be fair, wily-as-a-fox Mitch is a politician and any politician worthy of that appellation can tell when the wind is shifting before most of their supporters have an inkling.  

Consider that a recent report by Politico reveals McConnell has expressed concern to insiders that the Republican Party could lose control of both the Senate and the House in the 2018 midterm elections.

No wonder, as The Hill reported on Dec. 22, “GOP calls to work more with Democrats next year are becoming more common as Republicans look for ways to win over swing voters” in 2018.

“If you need a wakeup call after Virginia, New Jersey, and Alabama, you are really deep asleep,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), former chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told reporters in late December, referring to the recent GOP losses in those states, which culminated in the historic election of Doug Jones as the first Democrat to serve as a Senator of Alabama in a generation.

Oddly enough, at least to me, The Hill report also posited that some Republicans are admitting that they are “only now beginning to pay close attention to the coming political winds, which have been shaping for months.”

What those winds will likely do is blow into the halls of Congress a loud call by the GOP leadership for bipartisan action on everything from protecting the immigration status of “Dreamers” to fixing roads and bridges and all the other crucial components of our nation’s infrastructure.

Or, as Sen. McConnell put it when speaking at that Dec. 21 event: “I hope we can go forward on infrastructure. I think it's pretty popular with Democrats and Republicans.” If he had asked me, I'd have told him for you that there is no one political office in this country who would argue with that.

About the author
David Cullen

David Cullen

[Former] Business/Washington Contributing 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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