WASHINGTON — Rep. Bill Shuster is the most likely candidate to follow in his father’s footsteps as the next chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, but there are several possible dark horse candidates if current chairman John Mica steps down from the post as expected, according to transportation lobbyists.
Shuster, a Republican from Pennsylvania, is an overwhelming favorite to succeed to the chairmanship as long as his party retains control of the House following this November’s elections. There will almost certainly be a new chairman either way, because of a GOP rule that prevents party members from serving more than a combined six years as chairman or ranking member of a committee.
Mica, of Florida, whose time will be up after serving as both ranking Republican and chairman, is seeking an exemption from the rules that is unlikely to be granted, insiders said.
The transportation committee leader has considerable power in determining what bills have a chance at becoming law, and can influence transportation policy further by presiding over markups and hearings. The next chairman will have the responsibility of working towards a new multi-year highway bill, as the one enacted earlier this year expires in 2014.
Shuster, a 52 year-old, six-term congressman, currently serves as chairman of the committee’s railroads, pipelines and hazardous materials subcommittee. He was a prominent figure during the heated debate over the two-year surface transportation bill enacted earlier this year.
He pushed to ensure that money sent to the highway trust fund, mostly from federal gas taxes, remained “focused like a laser” on highways and not diverted to other areas of need.
When fierce opposition from Democrats put the brakes on Mica’s bill, Shuster’s role became even more prominent, as House leadership turned to him to drum up support for the legislation.
Shuster is a staunch opponent of the alternative minimum tax, dedicating a permanent section of his official congressional website to the issue. “The AMT must be scrapped and I am determined to working toward that goal in Congress,” he said on the site.
The Pennsylvanian also has a pedigree working in his favor. His father, Bud Shuster, represented the same district for 28 years, and chaired the transportation committee from 1995-2001. These factors combine to make him a virtual lock, some transportation advocates said.
“Shuster, from everything I’m hearing, seems to be a shoo-in,” one airport lobbyist said. “I think Shuster’s the guy.”
Another transportation advocate who declined to be identified said that before 2010, seniority was the driving factor in chairmanships. But since the GOP’s takeover that year, loyalty to party leadership, fundraising skill and ability to influence other members have taken precedence, she said. That appears to put 17-term Wisconsin Rep. Tom Petri out of luck.
“Since Petri’s already been passed over,” he’s likely not a factor, she said.
But Tennessee’s John Duncan Jr., a 13-term congressman who chairs the subcommittee on highways and transit, could be a factor.
“Duncan’s pretty high on the food chain,” said a highway lobbyist who also did not want to be named. But, he added, “I think Shuster is looking pretty good for the job.”
If the Democrats manage to seize control of the House, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., would be a likely choice, observers said. Others could include Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-District of Columbia.
Most, though, consider a Democratic takeover a longshot because they need to hold 218 seats. The House currently consists of 240 Republicans and 190 Democrats, with five vacancies, according to the House clerk.
The most recent analysis of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia counts 195 safe and 15 likely seats for the Republican, compared with 156 and 10 for the Democrats.