Election 2016 Outlook for Freight Rail Issues

The 2016 Elections could bring some significant changes to congressional committees with jurisdiction over freight rail shipper issues, no matter which party wins the White House.

The next President will have the opportunity to nominate as many as three members of the Surface Transportation Board in 2017.  Current Board Member Ann Begeman’s one-year holdover period expires December 31. It is doubtful that the White House will send over a nomination to the U.S. Senate for action prior to the November Elections let alone during the anticipated post-election Lame Duck Session of Congress.

In addition, the next President has the opportunity to nominate candidates to fill the two seats created on the Board by the STB Reauthorization Act of 2015 (P.L. 114-110).


Key Freight Rail Changes Expected in the U.S. Senate

Thirty-four Senate seats are up this year, with five senators retiring: Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MA), David Vitter (R-LA), and Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN).  Sen. Vitter has been a steadfast supporter of freight rail shipper issues, notably those issues of concern to FRCA and freight rail-dependent shippers.


Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee

In the upcoming 115th Congress, the Commerce Committee will continue its oversight of the implementation of the STB Reauthorization Act of 2015, the railroad industry’s continued implementation of positive train control technology, and the activities of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

This Committee will also be holding the eventual nomination hearings for the two new STB Members and the seat that is expiring December 31 currently held by Member Ann D. Begeman.

Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) is up for reelection, along with six of his colleagues:

  • Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
  • Roy Blunt (R-MO)
  • Marco Rubio (R-FL)
  • Jerry Moran (R-KS)
  • Ron Johnson (R-WI)
  • Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
  • Brian Schatz (D-HI).

Senators Ayotte, Blunt, Moran, Johnson, Blumenthal and Schatz all serve on the Surface Transportation Subcommittee.

If Democrats win the Senate, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), would be in line to chair the Commerce Committee.  Sen. Nelson, who cosponsored the STB Reauthorization Act of 2015, is currently ranking member of the Committee.  Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) would be in line to replace Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE) as chair of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee.


Senate Appropriations Committee

The Appropriations Committee provides the annual appropriated funding for the STB, FRA and rail safety programs. 

Change is in the air at the Senate Appropriations Committee, even if Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) wins reelection.  As noted above, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the Committee’s Vice Chair, is retiring at the end of this Congress. 

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is in line to be the top Democrat on the committee if he wins reelection.  He may, however, wish to continue serving as Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee (to have more of a hand in filling the current Supreme Court vacancy).  Other senior Democrats reportedly interested – and who would top contenders to move into the chairmanship – are Senator Murray and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL).

Other Appropriation Committee Members up for reelection include Senators:

  • Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
  • Roy Blunt (R-MO)
  • Mark Kirk (R-OH)
  • John Boozman (R-AR)
  • James Lankford (R-OK)
  • Patty Murray (D-WA)
  • Brian Schatz (D-HI).

On the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Subcommittee, Ranking Member Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) could replace current Chair Senator Susan Collins (R-ME).


Given the unique shipper concerns facing the grain and farming industries, three members of the Senate Agriculture Committee are seeking reelection: Boozman, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Senator John Hoeven (R-ND).  If the Senate goes Democrat, current ranking member Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is in line to replace Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) as Chairman.


Senate Judiciary Committee

Although the Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over transportation antitrust issues, other than those pertaining to railroads which remains with the Commerce Committee, the Judiciary Committee is of interest to FRCA and all freight rail shippers.

Committee Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Leahy (as discussed above) are both up for reelection in November, as are Committee Members Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Mike Lee (R-UT).  As noted earlier, another Committee Member, Vitter, is not seeking reelection.


Few Changes Expected in the U.S. House of Representatives

As the November 8 Elections move closer, it remains highly unlikely that the U.S. House of Representatives will flip to Democratic control.  However, it does look as if more Democrats might win seats due to possible growing vulnerabilities of some Republican incumbents.

Regardless of the outcome of the Elections, the makeup of House committees with jurisdiction over freight rail issues is not expected to change much. 

Perhaps the most notable change will be on the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee, which like the Senate Commerce Committee, will continue its oversight of the implementation of the STB Reauthorization Act of 2015, the railroad industry’s continued implementation of positive train control technology, and the activities of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

Five T&I Committee Members will not be returning to the House in January:

  • Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) is running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
  • On its House Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Representatives:
    • Corrine Brown (D-FL) was defeated in a September primary election
    • Janice Hahn (D-CA) is running for local office in California
    • Richard Hanna (R-NY) is retiring
    • Candice Miller (R-MI) is retiring.


House Appropriations Committee

As with its Senate counterpart, the House Appropriations Committee is responsible for providing the annual appropriated monies for the STB and FRA.

Three members of the House Appropriations Committee are retiring, Representatives: Steve Israel (D-NY); Ander Crenshaw (R-FL); and, Reid Ribble (R-WI).

In addition, Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY) is completing his third term as chairman of the full Appropriations Committee. House Republican Caucus rules set a six-year maximum limit on committee chairmanships. Chairman Rogers has stated that he will not be seeking a waiver to serve another term. Based on seniority, the next in line to serve as Chairman is Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), who currently chairs the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.


House Agriculture Committee

As with the Senate-side, the House Agriculture Committee is of importance to FRCA and freight rail shippers. In addition to Kirkpatrick, four Members of the House Agriculture Committee are leaving office due to retirements, Representatives: Gwen Graham (D-FL); Dan Benishek (R-MI); Chris Gibson (R-NY); and, Randy Neugebauer (R-TX).


House Judiciary Committee

As noted in the Senate discussion, railroad anti-trust issues rests with the House T&I Committee but the activities and perspectives of the House Judiciary Committee are relevant to FRCA and all freight rail shipper concerns.  On this Committee, Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA) was defeated in his primary race.

View other articles in the October 2016 Newsletter