Meet the D.C. power crowd, part 1: House T&I Committee

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The 114th Congress has been in session for a few weeks, and the committees that affect trucking and transportation have begun to meet. This is the first story in a series to help truckers get to know the committees and lawmakers in Congress that influence transportation, trucking and motor carrier safety.

Leadership on some of the committees changed after the fall 2014 elections, which saw the Republican Party gain control of the Senate and a few household names retire. In the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republicans built on an existing majority and added a few members to various committees.

It’s time to meet the D.C. power crowd that will be making decisions on issues related to trucking and transportation. But just because someone is not on one of the committees doesn’t mean their votes don’t count on the important issues.

Let’s start in the House, where the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, aka the T&I Committee, conducts the majority of the work related to trucking, highways and bridges.

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., stays on as T&I chairman. A member of Congress since 2001, Shuster has been an ally on many transportation issues and is a former chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

The highest-ranking Democrat on the T&I Committee is Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon who moved up after Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.V., lost his re-election bid in the fall. DeFazio is an ardent opponent of the cross-border trucking pilot program with Mexico and is not afraid to ask the tough questions.

Within the T&I Committee is the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. The former subcommittee chairman, Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., retired in 2014, leaving the door open for Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., to become chairman. Graves understands the need to rein in federal agencies to prevent the cumulative effects of regulations from harming small businesses.

The Democrats named Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia as ranking member of the subcommittee. Although she is considered a non-voting delegate in the U.S. House, Holmes Norton does have power to help determine whether a bill emerges from the committee. In recent months, Holmes Norton has spoken in support of driver training for entry-level truck and bus drivers.

OOIDA pays close attention to the T&I Committee and the Highways and Transit subcommittee because that’s where a lot of what shapes trucking and motor carrier safety happens in the House of Representatives.

“The key lawmakers on these committees are on the front lines of transportation issues and will be drafting highway and motor carrier provisions,” said OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Ryan Bowley.

Bowley says it’s important for OOIDA membership to establish relationships with and educate their elected officials, whether or not they rank highly in seniority on committees and subcommittees.

“It’s important to note that the fall (2014) elections saw an increase in the Republican majority, and that means a lot of new faces on the House T&I Committee,” Bowley said.

“So it’s just as important to engage the new members of a committee as it is to contact the leaders. And just because a lawmaker may not be part of a transportation committee doesn’t mean he or she won’t have an impact on transportation policy. Everybody votes.”

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