WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Shuster, the powerful Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Tuesday that he won't run for re-election.
Shuster said he wants to focus his time and energy on working with President Donald Trump on legislation to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to build roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
Although he was barred by GOP rules from seeking another term as transportation committee chairman, Shuster had publicly hinted that he would be staying in Congress and had noted that he is a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee.
His rural Pennsylvania district is reliably Republican, but Shuster only barely beat back a GOP primary challenge in 2016 from tea party candidate Art Halvorson, who is mulling another run. Shuster's father, Bud, had held the seat — and also chaired the transportation panel — prior to retiring in 2001.
As transportation committee chairman, Shuster is positioned to play a major role in the drafting of legislation to implement Trump's infrastructure plan. He met last month with Trump at the White House. The administration expects to release a detailed set of infrastructure principles in the new few weeks.
Shuster said in Tuesday's statement that he'll spend his final year in office "focusing 100 percent on working with President Trump and my Republican and Democratic colleagues in both chambers to pass a much-needed infrastructure bill to rebuild America."
American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear lauded Shuster’s tenure as committee chair.
“On behalf of the nation’s trucking industry, including more than 3.5 million professional drivers, I want to thank Chairman Shuster for his service in the cause of improving and modernizing our transportation system,” Spear said. “Throughout his career, Chairman Shuster has been a champion for highway safety and the trucking industry, leading the charge for increased investment in the critical highway arteries that our trucks depend on to move the nation’s goods.
Spear said Shuster had proven time and again that Congress can still tackle important problems.
“During his tenure, his committee has led the way on moving bills through the process to actual enactment, and the trucking and freight industry are stronger for his work. As Congress and the President work to address our nation’s infrastructure this year, we intend to help Chairman Shuster cap an outstanding career leading the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.”
Shuster often found himself at odds with the regulatory efforts of the Obama administration.
“As someone who’s been there and seen the good work you’ve done [in Washington] in an environment that for at least the last several years has been very, very hostile to your industry, I want to thank Governor [Bill] Graves [former president and CEO of ATA],” Shuster told a gathering at the ATA Management Conference and Exhibition in Philadelphia in October 2015. “The administration and its agencies that put the rules out are not friendly to your industry.”
Shuster told convention delegates that the importance of transportation, especially truck transportation, is readily evident everywhere he goes.
“It dawned on me one day, I believe it was in Louisiana, that when I talk about transportation to transportation groups, it obviously goes far beyond that,” he said. “Every American is in the transportation business. Every one of us is touched by the system every day. When mom and dad take the cereal from the cupboards” they are able to do so because of the transportation system.
“So, we’re all in the transportation system and we all have to make sure that we’re doing the right thing. The transportation infrastructure allows businesses to be competitive and create jobs. Our transportation infrastructure and supply chain get raw materials to the market and products to the store. Trucking is vital to this system.”
During his time as chairman of the committee, Shuster’s top legislative priority has been removing air traffic control operations from the government and placing them under the authority of a private, non-profit corporation. He has succeeded in winning transportation committee approval for the plan, but that's as far as the proposal has gone.
Shuster helped persuade Trump to back the plan, which is also a top lobbying priority of the airline industry. But the bill faces fierce opposition from other segments of the aviation industry, including private pilots and business aircraft operators, and is almost universally opposed by Democrats. Short the votes necessary for passage, GOP leaders have been unwilling to bring the measure to the House floor for a vote.
“As we look to the legislative agenda this year and work with President Trump to upgrade our nation's infrastructure and improve the lives of the American people, I know that Bill will continue to be an important leader,” said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
In 2015, Shuster acknowledged a “private and personal relationship” with Shelley Rubino, a vice president with the trade association Airlines for America who lobbies the transportation committee. Shuster has repeatedly introduced bills and backed proposals sought by the airline industry.
Besides air traffic control privatization, he also introduced legislation that would have rolled back an Obama administration regulation requiring airlines to display the full cost of an airfare inclusive of taxes and fees rather than a posting a base rate and adding in taxes and fees later. The bill went nowhere in the Senate.