If campaigns contributions are any indication, the trucking industry is squarely behind the Republican agenda. During the 2004 election cycle, 20 trucking Political Action Committees gave 81% of their contributions to Republicans — $701,494 out of $869,608 — according to the Federal Election Commission.
These contributions helped Republications increase their Senate majority from 51 seats to 55, but that's still not enough to stop a filibuster by the minority Democrats, who hold 45 seats. Republicans increased their House majority by 2 seats to 231 compared to 201 Democrats and one Independent.
President Bush is expected to pursue his ambitious social agenda, including a revamp of Social Security, and is expected to push his business-oriented agenda too.
One of the most important issues for trucking will be to finish work on appropriations, especially the Highway Authorization bill, which remains in limbo despite two years of deliberations. Just before the election hiatus, Congress passed temporary funding that ends in May. An amendment to the stopgap legislation extends the new hours-of-service rules to September 30, 2005. Final legislation is also expected to address the issues of tolls on Interstates, increasing HOS fines and state-by-state apportionment of fuel taxes.
Fuel prices are in the President's sights, too. With crude oil costs rising more than 70%t since Bush took office, the President wants drilling in part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Whether such an operation will actually lower the cost of fuel is hotly argued, because the amounts may be small; some estimates are as low as 1% of U.S. consumption. Even if work were to begin tomorrow, it would be a decade before any oil would flow.
Another issue on the President's hot list is the rising cost of medical care and prescription drugs, which remain a large portion of corporate expenditures. Roughly half of all American workers are covered by employer-paid healthcare, and for the trucking industry the number is much higher. The president would like tax credits for small businesses to help defray the cost of healthcare. This plan would require a greater out-of-pocket payment by workers themselves.
The President also wants to simplify the tax code. Bush intends to form a commission to study ways to make the tax code less complicated and move towards a tax on consumption rather than income. The idea, some in the administration suggest, would be to get rid of many deductions, especially those benefiting one industry or even a single corporation and broaden the burden more fairly among taxpayers and thus lower the rate for everyone.
Despite the President's substantial cache of political capital, his agenda could run into trouble. First, he may expend large amounts of this capital on his social agenda — bans on same-sex marriage and abortion, for example — and have little left for anything else.
More importantly, the deficit remains substantial wildcard. When Bush took office, the Congressional Budget Office forecast a federal surplus of $5 trillion over the coming decade. Following spending on homeland security, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and tax cuts, the CBO predicts a deficit of more than $2 trillion, not including the $1 trillion already added during Bush's first four years. Bush has promised to cut the budget in half in five years, but even if that happens, the sixth year will see a rapidly growing deficit again — with no end in sight.
In the end, it may be Bush's lack of fiscal restraint — a charge Republicans often lodge at Democrats — that could trip up his ambitious plans.