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Will the Democrats take the House? Will the Republicans retain control of the Senate? Pollsters have been trying to predict the outcome for months now. As we head into the midterm elections today, if there is anything we learned from following the polls in the 2016 Presidential election, it is that no one really knows what will happen until the results are in.
At GBTA, we are not in the business of predicting elections, but we do want to let you know what impact the election can have on business travel – regardless of who wins or loses today.
Here are three key travel-related committees to keep an eye on:
House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee - Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) is currently serving his third term as Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. As one of the largest committees in Congress, it has broad jurisdiction over all modes of transportation and other aspects of our national infrastructure as well. Shuster is retiring from Congress, meaning the chair of this Committee will change regardless of the election outcome.
If the House flips, the current Democratic ranking member who would become the chair is Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR). Rep. DeFazio was a sponsor of the FASTER Act, which GBTA strongly supported. He does however, support raising the cap on the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC). GBTA will continue to engage on these important issues as an increase in the PFC could have a significant impact on the bottom line for companies sending business travelers on the road for roughly 40 million business trips a month – most of which involve air travel.
If the Republicans remain in control of the House, there are two contenders in play to take on the chair role: Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO). Past Legislative Summit attendees may remember Rep. Denham as a speaker in 2015. He has done some positive work for business travelers with his efforts around passenger rail legislation. He is facing a tough reelection campaign that he will need to win first if he wants a chance to chair the Committee though. Rep. Graves is also a past Legislative Summit speaker and a longtime champion of business travel making him a two-time GBTA Navigator Award winner. Politico reports that Graves appears to be first-in-line in this contest, but that both Congressmen have expressed a desire to push a major infrastructure package as an early priority in the next Congress.
House Homeland Security Committee – With current Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) reaching his term limit, the leadership for the House Homeland Security Committee will also change regardless of whether the House flips or not. It is not completely clear who will take over should the Republicans maintain control, but Mike Rogers (R-AL) is seen as the most likely.
If the Democrats win the House, ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-MS) would be the next chairman. Thompson has been the top Democrat on the Committee since 2005.
Given the many security items incorporated into the recently passed FAA Reauthorization bill, the Committee will likely focus more attention on TSA oversight issues going forward including workforce and union concerns, whistleblower protections and employee misconduct. Thompson has also shown interest in the growing use of biometric technology and facial recognition by Customs Border Protection and TSA, along with what privacy concerns this technology poses.
Additionally, Politico reported that a Thompson aide has said Democrats want to examine immigration policies that have come out of the Trump Administration including the travel ban, border wall and disaster response.
Senate Commerce Committee – Sen. John Thune (R-SD), current chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, is expected to move to the role of Senate Majority Whip should the Republicans retain control of the Senate.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) is expected to take on the chair role in this case. His priorities on transportation are not yet known. When it comes to aviation, he has spoken out against regulatory policies that make it harder for the airlines to do business out of concern that this typically means if airlines need to cut service, it will be to less-profitable, rural routes like his state. However, he has also been opposed to the airlines’ views on several issues including pulling air traffic control operations from the FAA and supporting language in the FAA Bill that would bar unreasonable change and cancellation fees (this ultimately was not included in the final bill). In other modes of transportation, he has long been a proponent for maintaining Amtrak’s long-distance routes and will likely be a key voice for Amtrak on this front if he becomes chair.
If the Democrats take control of the Senate, the front-runner to chair the Committee is Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) are also in the mix. Sen. Kobluchar is another long-time champion of business travel and an inaugural winner of GBTA’s first Navigator Award in 2016.
GBTA will be following the election results closely as they come in Tuesday night and will monitor the changes in committee leadership as that unfolds. Travel has always been a bipartisan issue and we will continue to work closely with leaders on both sides of the aisle to ensure the voice of the business travel industry is heard.
I encourage you to help make our collective voice stronger by attending our Legislative Summit next spring and letting your members of Congress know how important business travel is to our economy.
You can also stay up-to-date on GBTA’s advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C., Brussels and around the world by subscribing to GBTA’s bi-weekly Politics of Travel email from GBTA’s Vice President of Government Relations, Shane Downey.