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Looming demographic crisis, increased government regulations threaten recovery, says Josten

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor
October 22, 2012

The nation faces a demographic crisis that is creating a drastic need to reform retiree and health care entitlements that is affecting the nation’s financial health, a top business lobbyist is predicting.
 
“You cannot get from here to there without tackling entitlement reform,” R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told the 26th annual meeting of the North American Transportation Employee Relations Association (NATERA).
 
Meanwhile, Congress continues to kick the can down the road, but Josten is warning: “We’re about to run out of road.”
 
Josten said efficiency in the supply chain is “critical” to the nation’s overall economic health. He told the gathering of trucking industry officials that “when government is holding you back as an industry, it is basically holding everybody back in the economy.”
 
Josten called the government’s proposed hours of service cutback and other initiatives contained in its “Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA)” lacking in common sense.
 
“Common sense, we have suggested, needs to be present when it considers compliance and regulatory moves,” Josten said. “When a parked truck is hit by another vehicle and the trucking company is penalized, it is clear to us that common sense is absent.”
 
The about-to-end 112th Congress is an embarrassment because of its lack of action. This Congress passed just 73 laws, well below the famous “do-nothing” Congress of 1947-48 that passed more than 900 laws. Among other inaction, this Congress has failed to even pass an overall budget.
 
Josten called the election “a jump ball” that will largely depend on how each party’s success at getting its base out to vote in two weeks.
 
“The president faces two opponents—Mitt Romney and a stagnant U.S. economy,” Josten said. He said reform of entitlement programs—Social Security, Medicare and Medicare—are badly needed to create a better fiscal environment to spur an economic rebound.
 
“Demography is destiny,” Josten said, noting that current 3-to-1 workers to recipients ratio will fall to 2-to-1 within the next five years. “That worker-to-retiree ratio is accelerating downward.”


The Obama administration is currently “in a holding pattern” on issuing new regulations. But Josten, who tracks more than 350 issues as the No. 2 lobbyist at the Chamber behind Chamber President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue, said the administration will continue its aggressive rulemaking once the ejection is over.
 
The Chamber is actively fighting what it perceives as regulatory overkill. “We have been forced to play both defense and offense,” Josten said.
 
Josten said some of the most economically significant pending regulations affect ozone non-attainment levels, reducing the sulfur content of gasoline (which would permanently add 9 cents a gallon, he said), greenhouse gases from oil refineries, hydraulic fracking, and particulate matter in diesel soot.
 
Josten said there are more than 350 large infrastructure projects that are threatened because of the lengthy reviewing process brought by lawsuits from environmental groups.
 
Meanwhile, a top U.S. political analyst is forecasting an “extremely close” presidential election. Charlie Cook, author of the authoritative Cook Political Report, said President Barack Obama has about a 60-40 chance of re-election. A new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll shows the popular vote evenly split at 47 percent each for Obama and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney.
 
According to Cook, Obama has 237 electoral votes sewn up out of the 270 needed for reelection. Romney has 191.
 
Nine states will decide who gets the remaining 110 electoral votes. Those tossup states are North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, New Hampshire, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio and Nevada.
 
If the president wins Ohio—and most polls show him comfortably ahead in the Buckeye State—that means Romney “must run the table” in the remaining tossup states.
 
Cook says there is little chance that President Obama could win the Electoral College, but not the popular vote. That has happened only three times in history—2000, 1888 and 1876.
 
Cook’s forecast is for Republicans to maintain their control of the House and he gives them a 50-50 chance to retake the Senate. Republicans have a 25-seat edge in the House; Cook is forecasting Democrats to win only a handful of House seats.
 
In the Senate, Democrats have a 53-47 edge, counting independents Joe Lieberman (retiring) and Bernie Sanders as caucusing with Democrats. Twenty-three of the 33 Senate seats up for re-election are held by Democrats, who are in close races in Nebraska, Montana, Connecticut, among other states, according to Cook.
“Five or six states are within one or two percentage points—very close,” Cook says.
 
Cook says there is a decent chance that control of the Senate may not be known the night of the election because of the number of close races that may be too close to call or may be subject of recounts.
 
“It’s going to be a long night,” Cook said of election night.

About the Author

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John D. Schulz
Contributing Editor

John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. He is known to own the fattest Rolodex in the business, and is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis. This wise Washington owl has performed and produced at some of the highest levels of journalism in his 40-year career, mostly as a Washington newsman.


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