WASHINGTON—The surprise loss of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a June 10 primary election will make passage of important legislation, including transportation funding reauthorization, “utterly impossible” this year, according to Roy Littlefield, executive vice president of the Tire Industry Association.
Cantor, a seven-term Republican representing Virginia's Richmond-area Seventh District, was thought to have one of the safest seats in the House of Representatives. However, David Brat, a Randolph-Macon College economics professor backed by the Tea Party, received more than 55 percent of the vote in the primary.
Now a lame duck, Cantor announced he officially would resign as House majority leader July 31. His successor has not yet been named.
With the Highway Trust Fund expected to run out of money sometime in August, both the Obama administration and Congress have placed a high priority on passing a new transportation funding bill. In May the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously passed a six-year reauthorization bill, but the Senate Finance Committee must act on it before it moves to a Senate vote. Meanwhile, the transportation package passed in 2012 expires Sept. 30.
Before Cantor's defeat, Littlefield predicted Congress would pass a transportation bill before the November election, but not determine funding mechanisms until after the election. But now, with the Tea Party flexing its muscles, there is no way Tea Party-affiliated legislators will negotiate or vote for a bill, he said.
“What they will fight for is highway and bridge privatization,” he said. “When you own a road or bridge, you expect to get a return on your investment. That means one of three things: you charge a toll, you increase the toll, or you decrease maintenance.”
Already 6,300 bridges and 800 miles of highway in the U.S. have been privatized, according to Littlefield.
“This is particularly unfair to truckers,” Littlefield said. “They'll still have to pay highway taxes, so paying tolls on privatized roads is like double taxation.”