Elections Change Face of Congress, Impact Automotive AgendaPosted 12/13/2006
By Robert L. Redding, Jr.
The recent congressional elections may have a major impact on the agenda for the automotive industry in the U.S. Congress. The Democratic Party scored significant victories in both the House and Senate. What does this mean to the automotive industry and specifically independent automotive repairers?
The House of Representatives stands with a Democratic majority, 230 Democrats, 196 Republicans and nine races undecided. The Senate will have 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans and two independent senators who will caucus with the Democrats, giving them a slim majority.
Although the leadership races are not complete, they look to play out as follows:
For the automotive repair industry, committee assignments - in particular the leadership of committees and subcommittees in the House and Senate - have changed dramatically.
Although many committees impact the automotive repair industry, there are several key committees that stand out. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., will now chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Dingell has been one of the most vocal opponents of Right to Repair legislation and his rise to chair most likely indicates the end of Right to Repair at the federal level.
Important to collision repairers is Dingell's career-long interest in insurance reform. Many have speculated he might make a run at bringing the insurance industry back under the jurisdiction of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Several years ago it was placed under the jurisdiction of the House Financial Services Committee, which will be chaired by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. He has a longtime interest in housing issues. The Financial Services Committee has spent the last Congress building a case for insurance reform. It is hard to predict at this point if that initiative will continue. Dingell has made it no secret that he supports major insurance reform.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., will have a senior role on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and will chair the House Government Reform Committee, which will be the top investigative arm of the House. Waxman was the lead member working with the Automotive Service Association in the House during the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, successfully acquiring the language protecting service information for independent repairers.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not promoted the expansion of emissions testing programs to the degree ASA would have like to have seen in recent years. ASA is hopeful that the new leadership in Congress will push the EPA to expand programs geographically in the United States.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., will chair the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., will chair the House Small Business Committee. She has addressed ASA's annual meeting in the past. The previous chair, Don Marzullo, R-Ill., was a supporter of Right to Repair legislation.
The Senate will also see dramatic committee leadership changes for the 110th Congress. Certainly at the top of the list is the new chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. Leahy made one of the strongest statements at a Senate hearing on the implications of repealing the McCarran-Ferguson Act. Leahy said, "If insurers around the country are operating in an honest and appropriate way, they should not object to being answerable under the same federal antitrust laws as virtually all other businesses. American consumers, from sophisticated multinational businesses to individuals shopping for personal insurance, have the right to be confident that the cost of their insurance reflects competitive market conditions, not collusive behavior."
ASA supports federal regulation of the insurance industry.
Another major change for automotive repairers has to do with air quality regulation. The new chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee will be Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. The previous chair, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., has been a strong proponent of the Bush administration's environmental policies. Boxer's views on global warming and greenhouse gases are very different from the views of Inhofe and the administration. ASA is hopeful that she will take a hard look at encouraging an expansion of vehicle emissions testing programs.
A post-election letter to the president by three key U.S. senators signals the direction this committee may move in the 110th Congress. The senators call on the president to work with them in an effort to curb global warming (see a copy of this letter at www.TakingTheHill.com).
The new Senate may not look so kindly on Association Health Plan (AHP) legislation. Democrats have not supported AHP legislation as vigorously as Republicans in the past.
Both the House and Senate are expected to take a hard look at energy programs, new fuel and engine technologies in the next Congress.
The 110th Congress will begin in January 2007. It will take several weeks for committee slots to be assigned but automotive repairers should look for an aggressive hearing schedule in early 2007.
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