Of the 134 bills signed into law last year, almost half were concerned with naming public buildings after noteworthy Americans, approving designs of commemorative coins or giving out medals to deserving citizens.
While the practice of using legislation to pay tribute to people is a time-honored tradition in government, it took on greater visibility in 2007 because of the truly vital issues that went untouched. Although many people have called the 110th Congress a do-nothing Congress, it was more like a not-do-much-of-anything-important Congress, a staffer for Rep. David Price (D-NC) noted. Price himself put it this way: “It was a hard year for major achievements.”
There were some major actions to be sure. Congress raised the minimum wage, altered college loan programs, digested and implemented some recommendations of the September 11 commission and, at the last minute, passed an energy bill that raised mileage standards for cars and small trucks. Congress also passed a temporary extension of the exemption for the Alternative Minimum Tax, so millions of middle-income families won't have to pay the tax, which was originally intended to affect those who make substantially more money.
What didn't get handled were major issues, including immigration reform, Social Security, a national transportation policy, highway infrastructure funding, traffic congestion and, of course, the war in Iraq.
When the Democrats in 2007 took control of the Senate by one vote and of the House of Representatives by a few more votes, the electorate was hoping that its majority, albeit slim, would be enough to move legislation through Congress and on to the President for his signature. They were disappointed at the gridlock that followed. Instead of a simple majority, Democrats found they needed 60 votes — three-fifths of members — to pass legislation because of Republican filibusters. Even when bipartisan efforts dovetailed — a bill that would offer healthcare to needy children was passed, for example — President Bush vetoed it as too expensive.
Another example of the rancor between Congress and the President was seen when both sides were unable to pass 12 separate spending bills and were forced to combine all but one of them into one super $555-billion appropriations bill, which included funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because of the bill's enormity, it served to hide millions in pork barrel projects from both Congress and the President.
Similar gridlock is expected this year, and the trucking industry will be caught in the middle. For example, Congress has cut off funding for FMCSA's NAFTA demonstration project, but the agency vows to continue it. And without a federal policy on greenhouse gas emissions, states — led by California — are making their own regulations. The danger here for carriers is that federal inaction may force states to institute their own rules, leading to a patchwork set of regulations that vary state by state.
The same thing could happen for healthcare reform. States may take up the issue, making it more difficult for trucking and other companies operating in multiple states to keep abreast of the various regulations.
The anger between Congress and the Administration will continue to be felt at agencies like FMCSA and the EPA as Congressional oversight is likely to increase over issues such as electronic onboard computers, hours of service, CDLs, hazmat transport and port security. Issues that in past years would have stayed within agencies may come under Congressional scrutiny. While fresh eyes are always positive for checks and balances, purposely confrontational interest from Congress could impede simple rulings that previously were handled by agencies in an expeditious manner.
Neither side has much to lose by not getting along. According to Stuart Rothenberg, editor of The Rothenberg Political Report, President Bush has no incentive to compromise with Democrats because he's a lame-duck president with poll numbers hovering around 30%. Congress has little to lose, too, with an approval rating in the low 20's. Trucking stakeholders who want regulatory solutions for their most important problems may be in for another disappointing year.