Highway Reauthorization: Interest Group Influence

Mar. 6, 2012 - Congress continues to work on a reauthorization bill for surface transportation programs such as roads, bridges, railroads, and public transit. Current authorization is set to expire on March 31, a date which has become the unofficial deadline for the bill.

The House bill (HR 7) has been particularly difficult to finalize. The cuts to federal employee pensions, originally intended to fund the bill, were used instead to help fund the recent payroll tax cut package. A bill providing for another source of funding sought by House Republicans, new oil & gas drilling offshore and in the ANWR Wildlife Preserve, has received a threat of veto from President Obama. More recently, the House measure was again delayed in order to shorten its length from a proposed five years to a timeline closer to that of the two-year Senate bill (S 1813). With the March 31 deadline looming, some action is likely to be seen in the coming weeks, although many issues remain unresolved.

  • A spreadsheet containing all the contributions mentioned below can be found here. (Contributions to senators from July 1, 2005 – June 30, 2011 and contributions to House members from July 1, 2009 – June 30, 2011.)

Construction

Interest groups and labor unions from the construction industry have been pushing for reauthorization, although some unions have opposed certain provisions. Organizations that support language in either the House or Senate version of the bill and stand to benefit from their passage include American Council of Engineering CompaniesAssociated General Contractors of AmericaNational Stone, Sand and Gravel Association; and Laborers’ International Union of North America.

  • As a whole, interest groups connected to the construction industry that have taken a position on the bills gave a total of $21,231,210 to members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Members of the U.S. Senate received a total of $25,068,579 from these same Construction industry interest groups.
  • Meanwhile, Building trades unions gave $7,854,079 to members of the U.S. House of Representatives and $3,555,755 to members of the U.S. Senate.

Public Transit, Bikes and Sidewalks

House Speaker John Boehner recently abandoned one of the provisions originally offered in the House bill that would have ended dedicated funding from the Highway Trust Fund for public transit. Transportation labor unions, as well as many state and municipal transportation officials, were against the provision. Transportation unions such as the Amalgamated Transit Union have also been pushing for additions to the bill such as an end to the overtime pay exemption for bus drivers. Another provision in the House bill would end funding for road safety improvements for bicycles, sidewalks, and scenic routes.

  • Transportation unions that have taken a position on the bill gave a total of $2,048,220 to members of the House of Representatives and $1,313,000 to members of the Senate.
  • Interest groups representing bicycles & other non-motorized recreational transportation gave a combined total of just $9,950 to current members of the House and Senate.

Railroads and Trucking

Another issue that has been part of the debate on the bill was the increase in the maximum allowable weight for large trucks, which had been supported by interest groups from the Trucking industry such as American Trucking Associations, CRST International, and A & M Transport. However, some interest groups representing smaller trucking companies, such as the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, had been opposed to the changes because it would make their smaller truck operations less competitive. The weight increase was eventually removed from H.R. 7.

Interest groups representing Railroads, such as the Association of American Railroads, had voiced opposition to the increased weight limit for trucks, as trains currently handle the bulk of freight transportation in the U.S. Rail advocates have also opposed the 25 percent decrease in Amtrak funding in the House bill.  

  • Interest groups representing the Trucking industry gave $1,882,036 to members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Members of the U.S. Senate received $2,392,171.
  • Interest groups representing Railroads gave $3,765,664 to members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Members of the U.S. Senate received $4,158,467.

Republican/Conservative Groups

The lack of revenue generating provisions in the bill has led conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation, Taxpayers for Common Sense and Club for Growth to oppose it. Some conservative groups, however, such as the American Action Forum, had initially supported the bill, especially the oil & gas drilling provisions.

  • Republican/Conservative interest groups have given $6,795,537 to current members of the U.S. House of Representatives. As one would expect, nearly all of the contributions went to Republican House members.
  • U.S. Senators received $15,878,994 from Republican/Conservative interest groups.

METHODOLOGY: MapLight analysis of reported contributions to congressional campaigns of senators and House members currently in office from interest groups invested in either H.R. 7 or S. 1813 according to MapLight. Contributions to senators from July 1, 2005 – June 30, 2011 and contributions to House members from July 1, 2009 – June 30, 2011. Contribution calculations for the Construction industry include contributions from Architectural servicesBuilders associationsBuilding materialsConstruction & Public WorksConstruction equipmentConstruction - unclassified; Electrical contractors; Electrical supplyEngineering, architecture & construction mgmt svcsEngineers - type unknownLandscaping & Excavation SvcsLumber and wood productsOther construction-related productsPlumbing & pipe productsPublic works, industrial & commercial constructionSpecial trade contractorsStone, clay, glass & concrete products; and Surveying. Contribution calculations for Transportation unions include contributions from Transportation unions, Other transportation unions, and Railroad unions. Contribution calculations for Trucking include contributions from Truck & trailer manufacturers, Trucking, and Trucking companies & services. Contribution calculations for Railroads include contributions from Manufacturers of railroad equipment, Railroad services, Railroad transportation, and Railroads. Contributions data source: OpenSecrets.org.

About MapLight: MapLight is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that reveals money's influence on politics. If our work has been helpful to you, please consider supporting us.