WASHINGTON—The massive Republican victories in the Nov. 4 congressional and gubernatorial elections were no surprise, given both historical precedent and poll results leading up to the elections, according to tire industry spokesmen.
“There were widespread predictions that Republicans would win big,” said Daniel Zielinski, senior vice president of public affairs for the Rubber Manufacturers Association. “The results were in line with historical trends that, in the sixth year of an incumbent president's term, the party in the White House generally loses seats in Congress.”
The Tire Industry Association's first reaction to election results was positive, according to TIA Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield. “It will mean a more business-friendly atmosphere in Washington,” he said.
On the other hand, Littlefield said he feared even more partisan gridlock in Congress than before. “I don't think either side is going to give in,” he said.
The election brought both houses under Republican control for the first time since 2006, gaining at least seven seats in the Senate and 12 in the House of Representatives.
Republicans also swept gubernatorial elections, although voters in some states sent mixed messages. Voters passed ballot measures in South Dakota, Nebraska and Arkansas and a non-binding referendum in Illinois to raise the minimum wages in those states, despite electing GOP senators and governors explicitly opposed to minimum wage hikes.
Zielinski said the election results could portend new, more hopeful trends in Congress.
“Everyone would hope that leaders in both parties will look at this as a new opportunity to find a consensus and move ahead,” he said.
“Some have said that partisan differences will prevent any major action, but one of the factors in the election was that voters are fed up with the lack of progress,” Zielinski said. “If the political leadership can find ways to work together, that would have beneficial effects on the nation as a whole.”
Both the opportunities and the pitfalls of the next two years will be huge, according to Littlefield. On one hand, there will be opportunities to pass tax extenders important to TIA members, such as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, as well as the repeal of the estate tax, a longtime goal for TIA.
On the other hand, congressional Republicans will be reluctant to raise the gasoline tax to fund a new highway bill, Littlefield said. That means other options unwelcome to TIA members—such as the reappearance of taxes on retread tires and tread rubber—could come to the fore, he said.
Many things in the next two years will be hard to predict, according to Littlefield. “In his first six years in office, President Obama vetoed only three bills—the least of any president in history,” he said. “But will he start using his veto now?”
In any case, any opportunities for congressional action will be brief, Littlefield said.
“No matter who wins the presidential election, there will be a lot of Republican seats in play,” he said. “A lot of Republican legislators won't come back after 2016, simply because that's what happens in an election.”
This uncertainty is what makes TIA's Federal Lobby Day, scheduled for next Feb. 5, so important to TIA members, according to Littlefield. Federal Lobby Day will give TIA members the opportunity to come to Washington to have substantive discussions with lawmakers and their staff members, he said.
The highway bill will be one of the chief issues discussed on Federal Lobby Day, he said.