Midterm Elections Mean Big Changes in Transportation
On Tuesday, mid-term elections were held and the results mean big changes in the transportation world. While two Senate races remain undecided at this point, Republicans picked up enough seats to take control of Senate in 2015. The outcome of the remaining two races will determine who strong of a majority the Republicans have in the Senate in the 114th Congress, which begins in January. However, even if both of the remaining races go to the Republicans, they will be several votes shy of 60, which means that they will need help from Democrats to pass legislation. One of the seats the Republicans picked up was that of Senator Pryor (D-AR), who worked on CMV safety issues. The leadership switch in the Senate means that Senator Thune (R-SD) will take over as the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Current Committee Chairman Rockefeller (D-WV) is retiring, and Senator Nelson (D-FL) is likely to be named the new Ranking Member.
On the other side of the Hill, Republicans won more seats, increasing their majority in the House of Representatives. While there will be no party change in the House, there are major changes coming to the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. Six Republicans will be leaving the panel due to retirements and lost races, including two of the panel’s most senior members. Meanwhile, three Democrats on the Committee lost their seats. While Chairman Shuster (R-PA) will retain the gavel, Ranking Member Rahall (D-WV) lost his bid for re-election, which means there will be a new Ranking Member on the Committee in January. Congressman DeFazio (D-OR) is expected to take over the Ranking Member position on the Committee; however, Congressman Garamendi (D-CA) has also announced his intent to seek the position. DeFazio is likely to get the position, given his seniority. The Subcommittee on Highways & Transit will also see a leadership change, as the Subcommittee’s Chairman, Congressman Petri (R-WI), is retiring.
With the elections behind us, the landscape for the remainder of 2015 and the coming year begins to come into focus. Once Congress returns next week, the top order of business will be FY 2015 Appropriations. Parties from both Chambers have been working on the remaining sticking points between the two proposals over the election recess. The question now is whether or not there is a desire among Republicans and Democrats to cooperate and complete the funding bill before the December 11, 2014 deadline.
There is a careful optimism among transportation stakeholders that a highway bill is possible in 2015. Republicans will want to show they can pass legislation now that they hold both chambers and the highway bill is a good option, as it generally has bipartisan support. However, funding will continue to be a real problem and the odds of finding new revenue under a Republican controlled Congress is not good. Meanwhile, the President made remarks following the elections that indicate he is interested in working on a transportation bill as well. In his remarks, the President noted that transportation and infrastructure are topics that cross party lines. The President suggests corporate tax overhaul as a means to help fund the next transportation bill, an idea that has not yet found overwhelming support on Capitol Hill.