Government Affairs Update: RSI Newsletter Special Edition

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To better educate and engage RSI members on the work RSI does related to government affairs and advocacy for the industry, we have developed a special edition of our newsletter. The following information summarizes RSI’s work in 2018 as well as our 2019 priorities. It also provides a post-election summary and what we can expect from Congress going forward into 2019.

In this issue:

2018 Advocacy Review

2018 proved to be a very strong year for RSI’s advocacy program. We partnered with groups such as the National Association of Manufacturer’s (NAM), AAR and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in lobbying the Congress and the Administration to maintain the substantial benefits of NAFTA while trying to negotiate improvements to the now U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA). We will continue to engage in this debate as USMCA navigates its way around Capitol Hill next year. Using our newly developed paper on Global Trade, we have also encouraged policymakers both in Congress and within the Administration to consider the competitive threat posed by State Owned Enterprises to the North American rail supply industry urging them to put policies in place that ensure fair, market-based competition. 
Notable achievements for 2018 have also included:

  • Successfully countering a major push from shippers such as Amazon, FedEx and UPS to allow heavier and longer trucks on the interstate highway system

  • Advocating for regulatory policies that enable suppliers to develop innovate new products for their rail customers by removing barriers to the marketplace.

  •  Helping secure a substantial increase in federal intercity passenger rail funding as part of the FY 2018 and FY 2019 budget agreement

  • Over the year, RSI has also met with a range of key government leaders to make our case on both legislative and regulatory issues, including DOT Deputy Secretary Jeff Rosen, FRA Administrator Batory; key political leadership at PHMSA; NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt and Congressional leadership on both authorizing and appropriations committees.

2018 Year End

Congress has returned after the elections for a so-called "Lame Duck" session.  Any pending legislation that is not passed and signed into law when Congress adjourns for the year - likely in mid-December - is officially dead and must be reintroduced again in the new, 116th Congress which begins in mid-January 2019. 
Prior to the election, Congress was able to pass a few of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 federal agency appropriations bills, however, they did not pass the THUD (US DOT funding).  In order to avoid a partial government shutdown, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund all remaining federal agencies, including US DOT, through December 7.   Right now, Congress will have to pass another stopgap measure to fund the government through the rest of the year or into early 2019.  The other potential concern is there may be a partial government shut down over the funding for the “Wall” on the southern border.

Post-Election Summary

While there are still some House elections yet to be called, the election has had mixed results for both parties.  Democrats needed a net gain of 23 seats to win control of the House. The House did indeed flip and the Democrats look to take 40 seats from the Republicans. This will give them the Majority for the first time in 8 years. Election results show that the House was won (or lost) in the suburbs. The 2018 Senate map was much more favorable to Republicans, who needed to defend only nine seats, compared with Democrats’ 26. Ten Democrats sought reelection in states President Trump won. The Republicans grew their majority from 51-49 to 53-47.

New Leadership in House and Senate Committees

There is new leadership with Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) becoming Chairman and Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) becoming Ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I).  As for the House Transportation Subcommittee on Appropriations, Rep. David Price (D-NC) may become Chair while Rep.  Mario Diaz Balart (R-FL) could become Ranking. For House Ways and Means, Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) will likely lead that committee.  Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) will now lead the Senate Commerce Committee and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) will become the Ranking Member.
Given the new leadership in the House, RSI believes the following will be the priority policy issues in the House T&I Committee:

  • Amtrak

  • Positive Train Control

  • Buy America

  • Safety Oversight

  • Surface Transportation Reauthorization

  • Infrastructure Package

  • Railroad Service

  • Airports

  • Broadband

  • Energy & Water

  • Regional Funding Equity

  • Air Traffic Control Operations

  • Maritime Issues

  • Autonomous Vehicle Legislation

 As you can see, many changes will occur because of the election.  For the first two years of President Trump’s term, he had control of both Houses of Congress.  This helped with his legislative priorities, but also shielded him from opposition party oversight, which is much different than oversight from your own party.  This could cause an entire new approach from the executive branch.  However, on infrastructure, there might be a larger opening to deal since all the other general issue areas are very controversial.  Thus, infrastructure might be one of the only areas where there could be compromise.

2019 Legislative Priorities

There is always talk about a potential infrastructure package, and more and more legislators are publicly stating they would consider raising revenue through the gas tax or some user fee.  This will be high on everyone’s list in 2019.  USMCA or the new NAFTA will also be an early priority.  The other issues are much more controversial including:

  • Immigration Reform

  • Data Privacy

  • Ethics Reform

  • Gun Control

  • ACA Protections

2019 RSI Priorities


RSI has several ongoing and crosscutting goals for our advocacy strategy in 2019: 

  1. Continue to Advance RSI’s Policy Agenda before Congress and the Administration to include:

  • Stricter and consistent enforcement of Buy America

  • Free and Fair Trade

  • Intercity Passenger/Transit funding

  • Infrastructure package: Truck Sizes & Weight (TSW), Section 130 highway-rail grade crossing safety program.

  • Rail Safety:  Positive Train Control, Tank Car Safety

  • Regulatory reform

  1. Continue to Strengthen Political Relationships through the RSI Political Action Committee (RSI PAC).

  1. Continue to Strengthen RSI Members at the Grassroots Level to Help Policy/Political Goals.