The day after the Nov. 3 election, most Americans woke to confusion. A president had not yet been declared. Likewise, enough races in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives were undecided that it still wasn’t clear which party might have an advantage in each.
Record numbers of votes were cast by mail, with a number of states promising to count them even if they arrived late — up to 10 days late — as long as they were postmarked by election day. Some states warned that they were still counting and that results wouldn’t be available for days, while candidates from both major parties threatened lawsuits. At the time of this writing on Nov. 5, mail-in votes tend to trend for Democrat candidates and Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden has taken the lead in some states and is closing the gap in others.
Regardless of who wins the White House, based on the vote tally so far, the Senate is likely to remain in the hands of Republicans. Democrats, who spent nearly a half-billion dollars campaigning for seats they felt might be flipped, were largely disappointed. Democrats needed to gain four Senate seats to gain a majority. Three would do, if Biden wins the White House, since vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris would break any 50-50 ties.
As of Nov. 5, Democrats have gained two Senate seats, one each in Arizona and Colorado, while losing one in Alabama. Four seats remain undecided, with all four leaning towards the GOP on the morning after the election. While nothing is final, as of this writing it appears that Republicans will retain control of the Senate by at least one vote.
A divided Congress will undoubtedly lead to more gridlock in the next four years. Legislation that is important to trucking, such as a bill to rebuild the country’s crumbling infrastructure, will very likely suffer as each party insists on the provisions it wants included. In the past, Democrats have called for more investment in “green” technology such as charging stations and renewable-energy subsidies while Republicans have insisted on more cash for road and bridge repair.
Another issue expected to be hotly contested is the economy. While the president can mandate some actions with executive orders, long-term actions such as tax cuts must be passed by Congress. The two chambers will undoubtedly disagree, as Republicans argue that tax cuts stimulate spending while the Democrats prefer government stimulus, funded by more tax dollars.
The Democrat platform also calls for increasing the minimum wage to $15 and the classification of independent contractors as employees, two actions that would impact trucking if passed.
COVID-19 will be another factor in upcoming legislation. Both parties claim they want to stimulate the economy by putting money into the hands of citizens, but both want to include funding for partisan projects their opponents object to.
We can expect Congress to continue bickering over another economic stimulus package, infrastructure, labor law, energy independence and other topics.
The area where the undecided presidential election is likely to have the greatest impact is in presidential appointments to federal agencies. The Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency, in particular, have a large impact on the trucking industry.
Recently, Democrat Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts sent a letter to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s deputy administrator, Wiley Deck, accusing the agency of a “loophole-ridden and patchwork system of accountability.” The letter questioned why FMCSA hasn’t developed tighter standards for granting authority to new applicants, what is being done about states that are slow to submit information about driver-safety violations, and why the agency hasn’t developed a single source that carriers can use to check driver backgrounds, among other things.
Additionally, several unions, including the Teamsters, have expressed opposition to recent changes in hours-of-service regulations that give drivers more leeway in deciding how to use rest periods. Because labor unions typically support Democrat candidates, it’s reasonable to assume that leadership appointed by a Biden administration would be sympathetic to both Markey’s letter and union demands.
New leadership at the EPA might also impact trucking. President Trump has issued an executive order that, in effect, negated fuel mileage and emissions standards imposed by former President Obama, angering Democrats. President Biden could reinstate those standards.
Fuel prices might also suffer under a Biden administration. The former vice president has promised to eliminate fracking in at least some situations. Both he and vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris have threatened an outright ban on fracking, but Biden backed off from that threat as election day neared. What he hasn’t backed off from is a promise to transition the country away from petroleum in favor of renewable energy.
All of this stands to push fuel pricing upward. Until renewable energy resources are developed to replace fossil fuel use in transportation, the U.S. could return to dependence on foreign oil to meet its needs.
A Department of Labor led by a Biden appointee would likely address the classification of employees, following a plank in the Democratic platform that claims owner-operators and contractors are “misclassified.” The resulting confusion, as well as higher costs for trucking companies, would not be helpful.
Of course, a Trump win would most likely continue both current leadership and policy at the DOT, FMCSA, EPA and DOL — generally considered to be more favorable to the trucking industry than a Biden administration would be.
By the time this article appears, maybe the election results will be official — but then again, maybe not.