December 2004

Deficits/Partisanship Might Force President To Scale Back Legislative Wish List For 2005

Soon after John Kerry delivered his concession speech in Faneuil Hall in Boston on November 3, George W. Bush remarked during his first press conference following the election that he had garnered some “political capital” in winning a second term in the White House and that he intended “to spend it” pushing his political agenda in 2005. However, when looking at his two major legislative priorities for his second term, Washington insiders are saying it will take all of his political capital and then some to get such an ambitious agenda through the 109th Congress.

Political capital won’t be the only price tag associated with enacting major reforms of U.S. tax code and Social Security. Both have huge budgetary implications and, at a time when the country is entering its fourth year of waging the War on Terror and the costs of many Federal entitlement programs are escalating at a rate of 6 to 8 percent a year, a growing number of Democrats and Republicans in Congress are beginning to question whether the country, in its current financial condition, can afford these reforms.

Between now and Inauguration Day on January 20, President Bush is certain to continue talking tough about the need for Americans “to own” part of their Government-guaranteed retirement, as well as the need to “simplify and make fairer” the U.S. tax code. But soon after the 109th Congress convenes in early January, reality is certain set in. In the new Congress, Republicans will hold a 55 – 44 (with one Independent who usually sides with the Democrats) in the Senate, and a 233 to 201 majority in the House, with one Independent.

While the House Republican leadership certainly will have the strength in numbers to push the President’s priorities through that chamber on straight party-line votes, the situation may be quite different in the Senate where proponents of the President’s policies will need to muster 60 votes before bringing any controversial measure to a vote. There, deficit hawks in both parties have begun to question whether such comprehensive (and costly) reforms should be considered. Rather, they have begun to suggest that the President might wish to spend his capital pushing other legislative priorities like health care and medical malpractice reform, as well as comprehensive tort reform, to name a few.

October 20, 2004

Vicarious Liability Reform All But Dead in the 108th Congress

In the world of politics, almost nothing is certain. However, when the U.S. Congress reconvenes after the November elections for a “lame-duck” session to vote on a series of “must pass” measures it left hanging when it adjourned earlier this month, vicarious liability reform legislation is almost certain not to be one of them.

When Congress returns to work during the week of November 15, it is expected to vote on a massive appropriations bill (comprised of 11 unfinished spending bills), on increasing the Federal debt limit beyond it’s current level of $7.4 trillion, and possibly on legislation reorganizing the country’s intelligence network as recommended by the 9-11 Commission.

One measure Congress is unlikely to act on is a conference agreement on the 6-year highway reauthorization bill – something that has proved illusive for House-Senate negotiators since both houses passed different versions of the bill last summer.

AALA and other supporters had hoped to attach a federal ban on state vicarious liability laws to a conference agreement. However, due to the failure to reach consensus on the bill, a federal preemption of state vicarious liability laws likely awaits its fate in the 109th Congress, which will convene in January 2005.

Control of the Congress Also To Be Determined This Election Night

For all of you who have had your “fill” with the 2004 presidential election, there are other races on November 2 the outcome of which are just as important (and some would argue even more so) as who wins the White House.

All 435 seats of the House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 of the U.S. Senate are up for election this November and, depending on the outcome, control of one or both houses of Congress could shift parties. In the House, Republicans will be looking to add to their 12-seat majority while in the Senate, Democrats must defend 19 seats this cycle while Republicans have 15 seats to defend.

Republicans are expected to maintain their majority status in the House, but their 3-seat majority in the Senate might be tougher to hold or grow. Close races in Kentucky, Alaska, Colorado, and a sure defeat in Illinois, could be just enough to bring about a change in majority parties in the Senate in 2005. However, Democrats have a difficult task of defending five (5) open seats in the South – one of which (Georgia) is almost certain to switch to the ‘R’ column.

Complicating matters further could be a win by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry in his quest to unseat President Bush. Should that happen, a special election must be held in the spring of 2005 to determine who will succeed Kerry as the “junior” senator from Massachusetts. Thus, control of the U.S. Senate might not be known until after Kerry’s successor has been determined should he win the presidency.

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October 7, 2004

Election Day – One Month and Counting!

In less than a month, America should know who is to be sworn-in as President of the United States on January 20, 2005. But while listening to the news reports from now until November 2 of who’s leading in the race for the White House, remember it’s not the popular vote that decides who wins the presidency. Rather, it’s the first candidate to muster 270 Electoral College votes that will be designated the winner on Election Night.

At www.electionprojection.com (for Bush-Cheney ‘04 supporters) and www.electoral-vote.com (for Kerry-Edwards supporters), one can monitor the latest Electoral College vote count based on current polling results in the various 50 states and the District of Columbia. You can also keep tabs on the hotly contested U.S. Senate races – the outcome of which could decide which party controls Capitol Hill during the 109th Congress.

Most importantly, we at AALA strongly encourage you to make every effort to exercise your Constitutional right and vote – either at the polls or via an absentee ballot if you’ll be on travel. As the 2000 election bore witness, every vote counts!

AALA Representatives Meet With Minnesota Revenue Commissioner

Last month, Minnesota representatives of AALA and the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association met with Minnesota Commissioner of Revenue Dan Salomone to discuss a proposed accelerated lease tax on motor vehicles that was before the Minnesota State Legislature last session. The proposal, first advanced by Governor Tim Pawlenty as part of an omnibus deficit reduction package, failed to be enacted by the Legislature before it adjourned earlier this summer.

During the meeting, Commissioner Salomone inquired about the differences in commercial vs. consumer leasing and warned the group that Minnesota is likely to face another deficit budget next year. As such, he indicated that the accelerated lease tax on motor vehicles is likely to be before the Legislature again in 2005.

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August, 2004

AALA Hopeful Highway Bill Conferees Will Address Vicarious Liability
When Congress reconvenes on September 7, AALA and other members of the Vehicle Renting and Leasing Fairness Alliance will be urging House and Senate conferees on the highway reauthorization bill to embrace language providing a Federal preemption of state vicarious liability laws. To date, neither version of the legislation contains the preemption language sought by AALA.

NTSB Recommends ‘Black Boxes’ For All Passenger Vehicles
In announcing its findings in an investigation of a 2003 California motor vehicle accident on August 3, the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that event data recorders should be required for all passenger vehicles. "We believe very strongly that vehicles should have a black box," NTSB chairman Ellen Engleman Conners remarked. A copy of the NTSB’s findings and recommendations is accessible at http://www.ntsb.gov/publictn/2004/HAR0404.htm.

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December, 2003

Cook County, Illinois Proposes Onerous Tax to Leases
On November 19, Gary Tepas, President and CEO of Emkay, Inc., presented testimony, on behalf of AALA, before the Cook County Committee on Finance in opposition to the burdensome and unfair tax (click here for the full text of the testimony). The county board was scheduled to vote on the final budget proposal on December 9, but has since been tentatively postponed to December 18.

U.S. House of Representatives Adjourns Before Voting on the American Job Creation Act
The House Ways & Means Committee filed its report on the American Jobs Creation Act of 2003 on November 21, but the bill did not make it to the House floor before the House adjourned for the year (click here for a summary of the bill). It is expected the legislation will be brought to the floor shortly after the first of the year.

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May 19, 2003

On Wednesday, May 7, 2003, The Department of Energy (DOE) held a public hearing concerning Private and Government Fleet Determination, more specifically regarding regulatory requirements to acquire alternative fueled vehicles (AFVs). To review the comments submitted by the AALA to the DOE please click here (members only).

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