Senate landscape shift affects transportation

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 12/6/2012

Retirements and term limits among Senate Republicans will alter the landscape of committees that affect transportation and highway safety. The latest to announce his retirement is Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, a senior member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. That committee now has three vacancies on the Republican side.

Abruptly, and surprisingly, DeMint announced Thursday that he was leaving public office Dec. 31 to become president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative DC think tank. Heritage Foundation has already issued a statement welcoming DeMint as incoming president.

Senate Commerce Committee
DeMint was next in line to become ranking Republican on the Commerce Committee because of the retirement of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine. DeMint’s retirement means Republicans must now fill a third committee seat for the 113th Congress in January 2013.

The next ranking Republican by seniority is now Sen. John Thune, R-SD, but Thune is also involved in party leadership and may not get to serve in a dual role.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, remains the committee’s chairman.

Senate EPW Committee
Another committee that affects transportation is facing a shift, although it’s not clear if it will change the way the committee votes.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Barbara Boxer, D-CA, is losing its ranking Republican, James Inhofe of Oklahoma because of term limits. Inhofe remains in the Senate and will stay on the EPW Committee but can no longer serve as the committee’s ranking member.

Moving into Inhofe’s role as ranking member is Sen. David Vitter, R-LA. It was Boxer, Inhofe, Vitter and Sen. Max Baucus, D-MT, who were the instrumental “big four” in getting the two-year highway bill known as MAP-21 through committee, through the Senate and into law.

Advocacy lost
Sen. Snowe also retires as ranking Republican on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. Snowe was instrumental in reforming the freight-brokering industry. She has also been a proponent of increasing truck sizes and weights particularly in her home state of Maine.

Sen. Hutchison leaves as ranking member of Senate Commerce. She fought adamantly against the tolling of existing federal highways in her home state of Texas.

The list of Senate retirees also includes Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, a long-time opponent of public-private partnerships involving roadway infrastructure.

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