WASHINGTON—A polarized national political atmosphere means there's a lot riding on the upcoming election.
Depending on who wins the White House and who controls Congress, life could look much different in 2021, especially when it comes to issues including taxation, regulation, climate change and infrastructure repair.
On the issues, there is no confusing President Donald Trump with former Vice President Joe Biden.
And whoever wins the election in November will dictate how the federal government approaches matters that could have a direct impact on the tire and rubber sectors—really all businesses—for the next four years.
Add to that the uncertainty about which side will control the Senate come 2021, and it makes the crystal ball gazing fuzzy these days.
At the U.S. Tire Manufactures Association, staffers are preparing for all potential outcomes.
"We've been doing scenario planning around our issue agenda in both cases—Trump administration, Biden administration. Also if the Democrats win the Senate," said Anne Forristall Luke, CEO at USTMA.
On the regulatory side, the Trump administration has taken a strong regulatory reform stance, and USTMA expects that to continue if he wins re-election.
"We would expect to see a continuation of a focus on economic stimulus. There's a significant amount of work that can be done to help stimulate the manufacturing economy in the U.S. and we would expect to see that continue under the second Trump administration as well as under the Biden administration," Luke said.
"On environmental policy, we would obviously not expect to see an aggressive push from the administration on things like carbon policy, climate change. However, if there is a second Trump administration, because of that, we might expect to see more aggressive action in some of the activist states such as California, Washington state," she said.
"We're prepared to have the tire manufacturing industry play an important policy role in the development of any carbon-related policy that would impact our industry whether it be at the state level or the federal level," Luke said.
If Biden wins, the USTMA expects him to re-engage global alliances and take "more aggressive action on climate policy. It would be important for the tire industry to have a seat at the table as that legislation, should there be legislation, is developed," she said.
"I would also expect to see a more coordinated national focus under a Biden administration on public health response to the coronavirus pandemic," Luke said.
"The Trump administration has taken a more of a decentralized approach to providing guidance to states on managing the pandemic. I think you would probably see a more unified approach under a Biden administration. And that could be a good thing," she said.
Tire Industry Association CEO Roy Littlefield has seen plenty of presidents come and go during his 40-plus years hanging around the Beltway. He sees infrastructure funding as a key issue that could impact its membership.
Paying for the repair and replacement of things like roads and bridges takes a lot of money, and there could be a variety of new taxes to help fund that work in 2021. That could include increasing existing excise taxes or instituting new excise taxes on the transportation industry-related goods, he said. What happens with estate taxes also could dramatically differ depending on who is sleeping in the White House next year.
A Trump win means there could be an opportunity to eliminate estate taxes, but Biden already has signaled that's one area where he will push for higher taxation.
With so much uncertainty, TIA will look to the upcoming state of the union address to help it determine priorities.
"Depending on who wins and what they say at the beginning of the term, especially in the state of the union address, we would adjust accordingly and look at what the top issues really would be and how we would come down on them," Littlefield said.
"You always have a lot of issues on the national level, but you have a lot of divisive issues this time," he said.
For Aaron Lowe, vice president of regulatory and government affairs at the Auto Care Association, it's actually a state issue that's on the ballot in Massachusetts that ultimately could have a national impact.
With more and more automotive diagnostic data becoming available via wireless technologies, there's a ballot measure before Massachusetts voters seeking to allow vehicle owners control where that data is sent, Lowe said. It's an important topic because control of that information will help determine whether independent repair shops can gain access to that data or whether it remains with vehicle manufacturers.
Voter approval in Massachusetts of this "right to repair" ballot measure ultimately could lead to a national approach that would open up the information to vehicle owners around the country, Lowe said.
Lowe said the ballot issue is built upon an earlier "right to repair" ballot initiative that overwhelmingly passed in Massachusetts and ended up serving as a model for a national agreement. That 2012 measure required auto makers to make available repair information and diagnostics. But the issue has resurfaced as wireless technology takes hold.
"It could have implications nationwide," he said about the upcoming Massachusetts issue. "We expect this could stir, hopefully, a nationwide discussion on this very important issue."
Placing control of the wireless vehicle information with vehicle owners would allow them to direct the vehicles to independent shops for repair instead of having to rely on manufacturer and dealer control, Lowe said.
On the national level, control of Congress and the presidency will have a major impact on how the country approaches trade issues during the next four years.
International trade could be "impacted greatly" by who controls the White House. "We don't know how either candidate will address international trade," Lowe said.
Tariffs on goods coming in from China have had a significant impact on automotive replacement parts, Lowe said, so that's a hot-button issue for the association's members.
Republicans, historically and generally, have been opposed to tariffs in the past. But the Trump administration has embraced them to conduct business.
How a potential Biden administration will address tariffs remains to be seen. Changes in Congress also could have implications on trade policy, Lowe said.
"I think we're watching the Senate very carefully. I don't believe the House will change hands. I could be wrong. But I don't think so," he said. "The senate is very much up for grabs at the moment."
Regardless of political affiliation, he stressed the importance of voting.
"It's really critical that people vote. It has impact on their jobs. It has impact on their personal life," Lowe said. "We want our members to vote and be politically active. … The biggest tool you have is to vote."
He believes the level of Washington activity in 2021 will depend on where the power rests.
"If there is a change in administration and change in the Senate, I expect it will be a very active year next year," Lowe said. "If things don't change, maybe not."
At the Automotive Service Association, several issues stand out as the election draws closer.
If the White House and Senate flip with the House remaining in control of Democrats, the association expects to see movement on major electric vehicle and infrastructure policy. Autonomous vehicle research and development legislation, which has stalled in Congress, also will have a "more clear path for becoming law" if Democrats control, said Bob Redding, ASA's Washington, D.C., representative.
ASA believes vehicle data access and privacy legislation "will have a much better chance of movement if one party controls the Legislative and Executive branches," Redding said in an email exchange.
Regarding vehicle emissions inspection and maintenance, the ASA believes there will be a "more restrictive air quality policy" from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency impacting state programs.
But if the White House or the Senate remain in Republican control, these initiatives will be slowed or stalled, Redding said.