“ObamaCare” – Not Good For Trucking

Can the independent owner operator or small fleet owner afford more unfunded mandates?

I’ve mentioned before that I host a local radio program in the state of Washington and that from time to time I am able to share some of my interviews that are related to the trucking industry in some manner.

This week I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Roger Stark, a Health Care Policy Analyst with the Washington (state) Policy Center.

The U.S. Supreme Court has been hearing arguments this week about the constitutionality of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and specifically the “individual mandate” portion – you know, the part that requires all Americans to purchase health insurance.

In addition to the individual mandate, there are other employer requirements for those entities with 50 or more employees.

One of the concerns I have had with this legislation is the cost to the individual or small business in our industry – the independent owner operator or small fleet operator.  Naturally this legislation will have a major impact on all industries, including the trucking industry.  In my interview, I asked how the so-called “Obama-care” will impact individuals, retirees, and small businesses like owner operators or small fleets.

Listen to the interview by clicking here:  Dr. Roger Stark – ITB

After interviewing Dr. Stark, as well as others on my show in the past, I am convinced that the country cannot afford this Act.  I’m convinced that the independent owner operator will find this unfunded mandate, as well as the unfunded mandate on small fleets (50+ employees), to be yet another “nail in the coffin” of entrepreneurship.  I’m also convinced the U.S. Supreme Court will find it, or at least the individual mandate portion, to be unconstitutional when their decision is announced in June.

Unfortunately, I also recognize there are problems with the current health care system – yet there are few, if any, viable proposed solutions that I have heard.

Highway Bill – Political Football

Though I have long advocated for the passage of a meaningful long term highway bill I am never surprised when one does not come to fruition.  Often times I am disappointed in the lack of leadership, both within the Administration and within Congress, to get a bill passed but I am never surprised.

Well, it was in the December 2011 edition of Challenge Magazine where I wrote, “It doesn’t take a lot of research to see that any long-term highway reauthorization bill will be a challenge to pass when the most recent stop-gap measure expires in March 2012.”

When the end of March comes, there will not be a long term bill.  There will be, however, a short term extension.  The Senate had passed what they called a long term bill and were pressuring the House, with the help of the Obama Administration, to simply pass their bill.  Despite those pressures, the House decided to not pass the Senate bill and instead has introduced a 3 month extensiona decision I believe was the right one.

Interestingly, it was US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood who was one of the leaders applying pressure to the House.  The need to do so may have caught him by surprise, because in my interview with him he commented on the highway bill saying, “This is an area that’s traditionally had bipartisan support in Congress, and I’m hopeful we can reach an agreement…”  The discussion has been anything but bi-partisan.

As disappointed as I am with not having a long term highway bill, I am also supportive of the reasons why the House chose not to pass the Senate’s bill.  In fact, I wonder why the Senate was not more open to encouraging the consideration of many of the provisions in Representative John Mica’s (Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee) House bill.

I spoke with staff at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee today and asked why they did not pass the Senate bill.  The response, in my opinion, was very reasonable.  First, the Senate bill was only a 2 year extension.  By the time it is fully enacted there would really only be about 18 months of actual implementation.  That’s nothing more than a slightly longer than usual short term extension.

Representatives Mica and John Duncan, Jr. (Chairman of the Subcommittee on Highways & Transit) want to pass a 5-6 year bill that allows for better planning by the states.  In addition, there are fundamental policy differences – like concerns about future funding, the role of mass transit systems, and the desire to link energy and transportation infrastructure.

I support the actions and motivations behind Mica and Duncan, but I also urge them to work to pass a long term bill.  According to their staff, that is something they think they can do by the end of June, but they also realize there is a tight window in which to do it – even with the sense of urgency all are feeling.

From my perspective, this is far too important of a policy measure to pass a short sighted 2 year bill or short term extensions – it needs to be a long term bill that secures that stability of the nation’s transportation infrastructure (ideally 6 years to allow states and local governments adequate and secure planning).  But please, let’s not wait too long – this should not be a political football that we play with through campaign season, though my guess is that is exactly what will happen. 

If I had to guess, expect more short term extensions and partisan divide at least until 2013.

Recent Media Appearances

Michael Howe Hosts "In the Booth"This month I had the wonderful opportunity to discuss the FMCSA’s Mexican Trucking program with two outstanding radio hosts.  Both discussions were somewhat related to my February 27th blog post, “US DOT Recruiting Carriers for Border Program – Lack of Interest.”


In reverse chronological order:

On March 16th I appeared on the Martha Zoller Program.  Martha is a solid conservative host in Georgia who is also currently running for US Congress.  It was quite interesting to hear her agree with James Hoffa and the Teamsters on an issue – that just doesn’t happen very often.

Listen Here (5:22):  Howe on Martha Zoller

On March 5th I appeared on the Peter Boyles Show on KHOW radio in Denver, Colorado.  This is a show I have appeared on numerous times in the past discussing this issue, NAFTA, and more.  I’m a fan of Peter, no doubt!

Listen Here (9:17; admittedly not my best appearance though):  Howe on Peter Boyles

Gas Prices and Energy Policy

Michael Howe Hosts "In the Booth"Hosting a local public affairs radio program offers many opportunities to interview policy leaders on a number of issues.  Occasionally, these issues touch topics that are likely of interest to my friends in the transportation industry.

This past week I had the great fortune of conducting two such interviews.  My guests were U.S. Congressman Tom Graves (R-GA) and former U.S. Congressman Bob Beauprez (R-CO).

Congressman Tom Graves (R-GA)
Congressman Graves

His name is likely familiar to my readers because it wasn’t that long ago I wrote a blog post giving him kudos.

In my radio interview we spent time discussing fuel taxes and his proposal to devolve the federal fuel tax back to the states – essentially giving control of much needed highway monies to a government closer to the people.

On the Highway Bill, Graves said, “It seems like every time this (highway bill) reauthorization comes around states are wondering what is going to happen. And why should they always be looking to the federal government to act….”

Regarding the Obama Administration’s energy policy and statements by Secretary Chu about gas prices: “What it really tells you is that…we do not have an energy plan and that the Administration has not put forth an energy plan but they have an agenda. The Secretary laid out what that agenda was, and that was not to see (energy) prices go down.”

Listen to the Graves segment here:  Congressman Tom Graves – ITB031012

Former US Congressman Bob Beauprez
Former Congressman Beauprez

This may also be a familiar name to my Challenge Magazine readers as I referenced him in one of my prior columns.

I invited Bob on my show to discuss one of his recent columns, “Obama’s Energy Policy: the dots don’t connect” (as printed in his online conservative policy e-Newsletter, “A Line of Sight”).

Regarding the near term future of energy prices as a result of the Administration’s energy policy, Beauprez said, “Hang on to your wallet if you can, it could get much worse.”

On the Administration’s solution to high energy prices, “What’s his (Obama’s) answer (on how to address energy price pressures)? He’s out there again demonizing the oil companies and talking about raising taxes rather significantly on the oil companies.”

Listen to the Beauprez segment here:  Bob Beauprez – ITB031012

House Committee Recognizes Burden of Overregulation

Seen First in Challange Magazine Online: Industry News
This is an excerpt of my comments. Be certain to visit Challenge Magazine Online for the full story.

Earlier this week staff at the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee reached out to me about today’s release of their video, “Regulation Nation: Doug’s Story.” This video highlights the increasing burden of overregulation on the trucking industry, specifically focusing on the new Hours of Service (HOS) Rules. Having had the great fortune of seeing this earlier in the week, I knew it was something I had to comment on and share.

Interestingly, my interrview with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood was also published this month in Challenge Magazine. I asked him about the new HOS rules. He said, “Safety is DOT’s highest priority. Nothing else comes close. And the department’s new hours-of-service safety rule will go a long way toward curbing truck-driver fatigue and making sure everyone driving on our roads and highways is safe.”

He continued, “We carefully grounded our rule in the very latest research and data on driver fatigue, and we gathered input from truckers, safety-advocacy groups, law enforcement, industry groups and the general public at six public listening sessions we held across the country.”

The newly implemented HOS rules have resulted in displeasure on multiple fronts. Some might suggest if there is that much displeasure from all sides the rules must be good. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) disagrees though. “The theory that a good rule is one in which all sides are unhappy is not true, it really isn’t. A good rule is one in which the public is protected, and that the narrowest use of authority yields the greatest benefit,” said Issa.

Having followed the regulation of the trucking industry over the years, I can honestly say it’s great to see Congressman Issa and this House Committee taking notice of the burdensome barrage of regulations on the trucking industry. It’s really becoming a challenge for carriers – especially the smaller independents – to thrive, or even survive in this environment.

Read more about this, including comments from the House Committee, on Challenge Magazine’s web site. Here is the video just released by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee:

Special thanks to my friends at the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee.

Mission Creep on the Highways

The horrific events of September 11, 2001, ushered in a number of changes in American life. One of those changes was how we went through security at the airports. Obviously, the nature of the terrorist attacks that day focused the nation on a need to provide more security at airports and at the borders. President Bush and Congress quickly acted to establish the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) with the hopes of better defending America’s transportation systems – again, primarily airports.

Very Brief Historical Overview:

The TSA was created under the 2001 Aviation and Transportation Security Act and would be housed within the US Department of Transportation. The purpose of the TSA was to “increase security at airports and other transportation venues.” Note the emphasis on airports. In fact, when President Bush spoke at the signing of the 2001 Act, not once did he mention highways. In 2002, the Bush Administration and Congress created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which ultimately moved the TSA out of the DOT to the DHS. Again, the emphasis of the TSA was on air travel and the nation’s borders (not really on highways):

President Bush: “The new department will analyze threats, will guard our borders and airports, protect our critical infrastructure, and coordinate the response of our nation for future emergencies.”

Norman Mineta (then US Secretary of DOT): “Creating TSA was by far the toughest, most challenging, and most satisfying endeavor I’ve ever undertaken. Starting from a blank sheet of paper on Nov. 19, 2001, we created an agency of more than 60,000 employees that is truly fulfilling its goal of protecting Americans, as they travel across our country, and beyond. . . . Not only have we improved security for the traveling public, but [we] have also cut waiting times at checkpoints, fulfilling our promise of delivering world-class security and world-class customer service.”

And Now:

In 2007 the TSA began its efforts to expand its reach and influence to the highways with the development of “Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Teams in Mass Transit and Passenger Rail” (VIPR). After training and build up of personnel and resources, the first VIPR teams really started operation just last year.

In October 2011, Tennessee became the first state to collaborate with the TSA’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) program. This included checkpoints focusing on truckers, but if you watch the video in this story from News Channel 5 in Nashville, TN, you will see that TSA is doing largely what state troopers and safety inspectors traditionally do.

Even the TSA’s web site refers to trucking, but seems to echo the information of other federal agencies.

TSA has identified large trucks as potential terrorist weapons. As such, TSA’s FY 2013 budget request includes $100.2 million for a total of 37 VIPR teams, which is an increase over the FY 2012 budget (that budget included temporary funding for VIPR teams, while the FY 2013 makes this funding annualized). These teams, according to TSA Administrator John Pistole (in a statement before the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security on Appropriations) are used in “periodic random deployments…….and, serve as a visible deterrent in all transportation sectors.” This includes highways.

While there’s no question many of the protective policies put in place since 9/11 have helped prevent another terrorist attack, this is really a question of where the lines of authority end. We are all familiar with the criticisms directed toward the TSA – excessive, inappropriate and unnecessary pat downs, invasive screenings, and racial profiling. Some, including I, would even argue that the TSA has no role on the highways as those duties should fall to the states (think 10th Amendment).

I know of no one in trucking who is opposed to safety and security, but extending the reach of yet another federal agency into the business of trucking is excessive (especially when the TSA is doing nothing different than local agencies have always done). This mission creep by a federal agency can, and will, only lead to more regulation on an already highly regulated industry.  Heck, maybe you’ll even have the opportunity to be patted down by someone in a royal blue shirt wearing latex gloves.

Talking NAFTA / Border Trucking with Roger Hedgecock

Yesterday (3/1/2012) I had the pleasure of appearing on the Roger Hedgecock Show to discuss NAFTA and the Mexican Trucking Program.

The appearance was largely related to a recent blog post (DOT Recruiting Mexican Carriers) and an interview I did with US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood for Challenge Magazine.

It was a good appearance, with the ultimate question being left asked an largely unanswered – If participation is so dismal, what’s the point of the program?

There was also the lingering question of, given the US State Department’s travel warnings and the dangers around the border, why would an U.S. trucker want to drive into the area? Why not just partner with a Mexican carrier, and vice versa coming North, like has been successfully done for years?

Here’s the audio:  Hedgecock030112howe