Redding: Outlook for shop owners in the 116th Congress

Data access path unclear

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The recent elections moving democrats to control the U.S. House of Representatives could lead to policy change for the automotive repair industry in the new 116th Congress.

Although the most dramatic election changes occurred in the House, committee changes will also produce new players for automotive policy in the U.S. Senate.

Robert L. Redding Jr.

There are 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives with 218 seats necessary for party control. House democrats picked up 40 seats. The current House ratio of democrats to republicans is 235-200. In the Senate, republicans will still be in control with 53 republican seats and 47 democratic seats. There are actually 45 democratic senators and 2 independent senators that caucus with the democrats. There are some significant committee changes that will be discussed later in this writing.

What does all this mean for automotive repairers?   The most obvious issue impacted could be data access and related cybersecurity issues.   Despite earlier House passage of autonomous vehicle (AV) legislation and passage of companion legislation in the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, the Senate has yet to schedule their version, S.1885, the AV START Act, for the floor.

Recently the Automotive Service Association (ASA) and other members of the AV Coalition sent a letter to the U.S. Senate leadership asking that they move the AV START Act during the Lame Duck session of Congress. If the bill is not considered by adjournment, the AV legislative process will begin again in 2019. Without passage, states and the auto industry will be provided little direction on AV policy including data access and cybersecurity.

The new U.S. House democratic leadership has not been finalized as of yet but already leaders are discussing priorities for the 116th Congress. Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is likely the next Speaker of the House. She recently highlighted her top priorities:

      • Health Care
      • Infrastructure
      • Clean Up Corruption

Although transportation infrastructure legislation could include AV related issues, AV is anticipated to be addressed in separate, new AV legislation if it rolls til 2019. Both the incoming Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Ranking Member have emphasized that infrastructure legislation will be a priority for the Committee. The Administration has been clear in their early policy agenda that infrastructure was also a priority.

New vehicle technology policy is just one example of policy areas that could change in the new Congress. With new chairs for key committees, repairers will note considerable differences in policy initiatives.

The U.S. Senate leadership has not announced a policy agenda for the 116th Congress as of now but will continue with Administration nominations including the judiciary. Immigration reform will likely to be an issue to be addressed. In addition, much work has been done on possible budget reform matters, important for many less senior members of the Senate.

Jerrold Nadler

Judiciary Committee

Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) will chair the House Judiciary Committee next year. Although the Committee is anticipated to spend much time on oversight, immigration reform is another possible concentration area. The collision repair industry looks to this committee for conversations about antitrust reform to address issues such as Most Favored Nation clauses (MFN) as they relate to direct repair agreements.

Financial Services Committee

Maxine Waters

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) will chair the House Financial Services Committee. This Committee has jurisdiction for most insurance matters including Dodd-Frank oversight. Former Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) was tireless in his efforts to dismantle the Federal Insurance Office (FIO) housed at the U.S. Department of Treasury.   Under Congresswoman Waters’ chairmanship, FIO is not considered to be a target.

Energy and Commerce Committee

Frank Pallone

Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) is predicted to chair the Energy and Commerce Committee. This will be the most important House committee relative to data access and cybersecurity. If the Senate fails to move AV legislation, the new Committee will begin AV policy consideration again. It is unlikely the new 2019 AV legislation will mirror the current House passed AV bill.

Transportation Committee

Peter DeFazio

Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) will be the new chair of the Transportation Committee. The Ranking Member will be Congressman Sam Graves (R-MO). Transportation will be critically important to the automotive industry with both the House Democratic Leadership as well as the Trump Administration emphasizing the need for a new transportation infrastructure initiative.

House Small Business Committee

Nydia Velazquez

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) will chair the Small Business Committee.  Although specific authorization areas for repairers are not necessarily addressed at the Small Business Committee, the Committee has historically highlighted areas of concern for automotive repairers, i.e. emissions programs, taxes, etc.

Ways and Means Committee

Congressman Stephen Neal (R-MA) will chair the Ways and Means Committee. This committee has been very helpful in previous years with tax related legislation, i.e. depreciation, pass throughs, etc.

In the U.S. Senate…

U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) will continue in his Senate leadership role but move on from the committee chairmanship and Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) will replace him as Chairman. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) will be the Ranking Member of the Committee replacing Senator Bill Nelson of Florida who was defeated. Incoming Chairman Roger Wicker has been very supportive of the automotive repair industry.

The Senate Banking Committee is important to collision repairers and is the authorizing committee for the Federal Insurance Office. The current leadership will remain in place, Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) will chair and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) will serve as Ranking Member.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) will move to the Senate Finance Committee Chairmanship. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) will most likely chair the Senate Judiciary Committee and Diane Feinstein (D-CA) will remain the Ranking Member.

Senate Small Business Committee leadership will remain the same, Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) chairman and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) will be Ranking Member.

The Appropriations committees, House and Senate, have new chairs, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) in the House.

Prior to adjournment, House and Senate caucuses will settle leadership elections as well as committee chairs and memberships. Subcommittee members and leadership had not been finalized as of this writing. Committee ratios of democrats and republicans had also not been finalized to date. Whatever the final outcome of these appointments, automotive repairers could see clear differences with issues of importance in the 116th Congress when compared to the current 115th Congress.