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Lobbyists see start of auto-friendly GOP era

Automotive News reports on how the recently elected GOP-dominated House will affect automotive legislation.

Automotive News

WASHINGTON--The new Republican majority in the House will investigate, slow, and try to block Obama administration initiatives that it considers detrimental to the auto industry, lobbyists predicted.

Last week's elections likely have changed the prospects for a variety of auto industry issues, including safety legislation, the new consumer finance agency's regulations, fuel economy proposals, and the EPA's new ethanol standard, the lobbyists said.

The auto safety bill crafted in the wake of Toyota's unintended acceleration problems is going nowhere as long as Republicans control the House, predicted Dave McCurdy, CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

The group represents Toyota, Ford, General Motors, and other automakers. In addition, the administration's regulatory plans are likely to be subjected to hearings by House committees, McCurdy said.

"Will we get listened to more? Absolutely," he said. "The message of the election is clear: focus on creating jobs and making our country competitive globally."

Industry advocates said the Republican rout last week could create gridlock, making it possible for the House to stifle legislation favored by President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate and for Obama and the Senate to thwart bills passed by the House.

Also, House committee chairmen will be able to launch hearings and investigations that impede federal regulations.

"There will be much more oversight, and the process will slow down," said Bailey Wood, a lobbyist for the National Automobile Dealers Association.

The House panels likely to be most influential on auto policy are the Energy and Commerce Committee, which may be headed by Fred Upton of Michigan; and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, likely to be led by Darrell Issa of California.

An Issa spokesman said: "We really haven't mapped out yet where we're going and what we'll be specifically looking at.''

The congressional elections weren't the only important races for the auto industry. Democrat Jerry Brown, an environmental advocate, recaptured the California governor's office.

He likely will tug in the opposite direction of the House on the administration's preliminary proposal to raise fuel economy standards as high as 62 mpg by 2025, McCurdy said.

"It's incredibly complicated from our standpoint," he said. "It's going to be up to the president to rein in some of the more exuberant tendencies in California."

The Obama administration has set up a collaborative process for its fuel economy proposal that involves the EPA, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the auto industry, and California.

Other likely implications of the congressional elections are limited to the federal level:

  • The auto safety bill would provide stiffer safety penalties for automakers as well as increased funding and authority for safety regulators. Bills passed House and Senate committees but never reached a floor vote in either chamber.

    Instead, the U.S. Transportation Department is likely to take some of the bill's technology provisions--new standards for brake-override systems and black-box crash data recorders--and issue proposals on which automakers will have input, said Michael Stanton, president of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers.

  • The new consumer finance agency that has authority over banks that make retail auto loans will receive added scrutiny over its proposals and senior staff appointments, NADA's Wood said.

    Harvard law Professor Elizabeth Warren has been appointed to get the agency running by July. It plans to seek simplified auto loan forms for consumers. Whomever Obama appoints to head the agency and any regulations it proposes will draw careful House review, Wood said.

  • Stanton said the EPA's decision last month to let refiners blend as much as 15 percent ethanol into gasoline, up from the current 10 percent, also might undergo House scrutiny.

(Source: Automotive News)