America Bikes and the League of American Bicyclists compiled an update on the election outcome and the changes it could have on bike legislation. While some results are still undecided, the two organizations feel they have a working understanding of the make-up of the House and Senate.
According to the America Bikes Team, Republicans have picked up four seats in the Senate and at least four in the House. Three House races remain undecided.
Regardless, the majority margins are very slim and bipartisanship will be crucial for any legislation to be successful during the next Congress. The chances for bicycling interests and the reauthorization of TEA-21 have increased “ever so slightly” with a stronger Republican majority coming into power next term, since the lame duck Congress is somewhat more likely to pass a six-year re-authorization of the bills in before turning their seats over to the newcomers in January.
America Bikes also stated that if this does not happen during the lame duck session, and legislation needs to be reintroduced in the 109th Congress, there will be a few changes in the makeup of the two committees which hold primary jurisdiction over bicycling interests in the bill. Committee ratios in both bodies will likely change slightly to reflect the new majority.
In the Senate, all members of the Environment and Public Works Committee will be returning for the 109th Congress with the exception of Bob Graham (D-FL), who is retiring. Bill Lipinski (D-IL), ranking member of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee will be retiring after this term. His replacement as ranking member is not yet known. In addition, all but 14 of the 162 members of the Congressional Bike Caucus will be returning for the 109th Congress.
In a separate issue, Republicans are getting closer to ending the filibuster preventing oil and gas exploration and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other wilderness areas throughout the country. The bill is attached to The Bush Administrations “Strategic Energy Policy,” which is designed to reduce Americas dependency on foreign energy sources.
The House of Representatives has already passed the legislation for ANWR drilling and the exploration of wilderness and roadless areas in the lower 48 states.
Sixty votes are needed to push the policy through Senate. Republicans added David Vitter of Louisiana, Mel Martinez of Florida, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, and John Thune of South Dakota, giving the party 55 seats. Myrna Johnson, VP of Government Affairs at OIA, told BOSS that recreation gems across the West are targeted for oil and gas exploration.
New Mexicos Republican Senator and chair of the Senate’s energy committee, Pete Domenici, told local papers that he will have enough votes early next year to tack on language that would allow the start of oil exploration in roadless areas throughout the U.S.
There are several bills the OIA is watching, some of which the organization has vocally supported, and some of which it strongly opposes. While the new Republican majority may appear daunting to some, the party has aligned itself with several bills that could benefit the industry.
The Childhood Obesity Reduction Act will, more than likely, have more support with the new Congress. The Bill was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and is co-sponsored by four other Republicans and two Democrats in the Senate.
In the House of Representatives it has one Republican and one Democrat sponsor.
Myrna Johnson told BOSS, “The real opportunity for the outdoor recreation community in the 109th Congress is clearly making the connection between health and fitness and outdoor recreation, and designing programs and initiatives that address this growing crisis. This is OIAs number one priority in coming months.”
The Get Outdoors Act, introduced by California Democrat, George Miller, does not appear to have the bi-partisan support it needs. The Bill is currently co-sponsored by 44 Democrats, one Independent and one Republican.
One bill which has possibly gained support from the new elections is H.R.1517, introduced by Missouri Republican Sam Graves. The OIA opposes this “Land Reinvestment Act.” According to OIAs Johnson, “The Graves bill would cripple the Land and Water Conservation Fund by diverting these important dollars intended for creation of new recreation opportunities to operations and maintenance needs. This bill breaks the original promise of LWCF, which was to re-invest off-shore oil and gas revenues in recreation opportunities for the American people.” H.R.1517 is currently co-sponsored exclusively by 14 Republicans.
On a more positive note, one Republican-sponsored Bill which the OIA supports is the Small Business Health Fairness Act of 2003. This Act would establish rules for association health care plans, permitting trade organizations, like the OIA, to offer health insurance to its members. This Act has passed the House and currently has 10 sponsors in the Senate, nine Republicans and one Democrat.
“The exploding cost of health care is the most important economic issue sited by outdoor businesses in OIA surveys. AHPs would be a good start at solving this issue for many smaller businesses. Its chances for passage have improved in the new Congress,” said Johnson.
Overall there appears to be a clear up-side and down-side for the Bicycle Outdoor and SnowSports industries in the 109th Congress. Just like every other session, the in-roads made by the different industry associations are more dependent on communicating effectively with both sides of the aisle than party affiliations.