Midterm changes landscape in D.C.

December 2018/January 2019

Jami Jones

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Democrats take control of House T&I Committee; Senate EPW changes little

The midterm elections at the federal level went about like many political experts anticipated, the Republicans retained control and grew their presence in the Senate, and the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has legislative oversight of the Department of Transportation and, in doing so, trucking via oversight of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The changing of the guard with the midterms will mean changes in that committee.

First and foremost, with the Democrats in control, a new chairman will be appointed. All predictions expect that position will be held by Rep. Peter DeFazio. The Democrat from Oregon is a longtime member of the committee and until the new term starts in 2019 he will continue to serve as the ranking member of the committee.

“This is a good one for small-business truckers,” said Collin Long, OOIDA’s director of government affairs. “He’s interested in pursuing some issues that benefit the professional driver that haven’t really been addressed under Republican control. So we’re optimistic about his leadership.”

On the Republican side, Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., is expected to serve as the ranking member. He currently chairs the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit and is familiar with issues facing truckers.

“Like Rep. DeFazio, Sam Graves has been a strong supporter of small-business truckers,” said Mike Matousek, OOIDA’s manager of government affairs. “Our hope is that they can work together to address several issues important to truckers that have been ignored for far too long.”

DeFazio and Graves will be responsible for drafting the next highway bill in the House. The big question is how Congress will address long-term transportation funding.

“Congress hasn’t increased the fuel tax since 1993,” Matousek said. “Politically, this has been a challenging and divisive issue on both sides of the aisle. Our goal is to make sure any funding proposal doesn’t disproportionately affect small-business truckers.”

The midterms will affect the makeup of the rest of the committee as well.

“There will be a lot of new lawmakers on the committee, both Republican and Democrat,” Matousek said. “Once the committee roster is finalized, our D.C. staff will start working to educate those lawmakers who are less familiar with small-business trucking issues. We’ll also continue to look to OOIDA members to help develop grassroots relationships with lawmakers, which is a critical part of our advocacy efforts.”

On the Senate side, with Republicans retaining control, few changes in the makeup or political agenda of the members on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee are expected.

Changes in control over either chamber in Congress underscore the importance of OOIDA’s nonpartisan advocacy efforts.

“You have to work both sides of the Capitol. And when I say that, I mean the House and the Senate, both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democrat. Our team in D.C. is constantly on the Hill or in DOT offices meeting with people pushing our issues,” Matousek said ahead of the midterms.

“We work with lawmakers and congressional staff on both sides of the aisle that have a track record of supporting small-business truckers. There are great members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, though some are obviously better than others,” he said. “There are some issues that Republicans are good on and some issues that Democrats are good on.”

That doesn’t mean that with the changing of the guard that it will be smooth sailing for issues near and dear to the hearts of truckers or particularly worse. It will simply be different issues that tend to rise to the top.

“Like I always say every member of Congress and every chairman offers opportunities but also challenges. So we have to keep an eye out for some potential technology mandates including possibly speed limiters – we’ve done a really good job pouring a lot of cold water on them in the last couple of years – and underride guards, which have been on the back burner could start percolating again. Mr. DeFazio has talked about insurance minimums, so we’re certainly going to have to keep a close eye on that to make sure that any legislation raising insurance minimums on truckers does not move forward,” Long said.

“We’ll also see what happens with hours of service. Thankfully, the FMCSA seems to be moving in the right direction on that. But there’s certainly an opportunity for the House T&I Committee to exert some oversight in the process. Overall, I think things are moving positively on that and will continue to do so.”

These are election results of the House T and I Committee members, listed alphabetically by state. LL

Jami Jones

Jami Jones has been in journalism since 1991 – focused on the trucking industry since 2000. Whether judging Shell SuperRigs or writing hard-hitting analyses, she covers trucking from lug nuts to legislation – always with the trucker in mind.