In DC, It’s Time for Shippers to Step Up

The recent partial shutdown of the federal government and debt ceiling scare suggests that for shippers and transportation providers, the failure of Washington, D.C., isn’t any longer about Democrats vs. Republicans. Instead, it’s increasingly about those who want to provide some economic certainty versus those willing to endanger a modest economic recovery to pursue specific ideological and political goals.

First, the facts: The U.S. economy lost at least $24 billion, or a 0.6 percentage point, of GDP growth in the fourth quarter because of the shutdown. Shippers struggled with cargo clearance delays because crucial federal data wasn’t released, and agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture, were slow to provide necessary paperwork. In a larger sense, the October shutdown and the looming threat of another closure in January saps global business confidence at a time when just one set of poor economic data can put executives back on the defensive.

Besides, the need for bold bipartisan leadership is as grave as ever. Congress is coming closer to addressing port and inland waterways challenges, with the House considering the Water Resources Reform Development Act this month. Improving the nation’s highways, roads and bridges is going to likely require politically unpopular decisions, namely raising the national fuels tax. And Customs and Border Protection, along with other federal agencies, needs to be more aggressive in speeding up the processing of cargo at ports of entry.

So what can shippers and transportation providers who are hundreds of miles away from the Beltway and have little time for politicking do? Tell those legislators who endanger economic recovery for quixotic aims to cut it out or risk losing your vote (and re-election campaign dollars).

This can be a tough choice, particularly for those who loathe Obamacare. But it’s a choice that more and more Republicans are making. Consider comments made by Bill Graves, head of the American Trucking Associations, about the Tea Party at ATA’s Management Conference in Orlando Oct. 21.

“Don’t get me wrong — while it’s appropriate, and there is certainly merit in advocating for reduced government spending, smaller government, reducing our debt, limiting regulation and controlling the reach and intrusive nature of the federal government — insisting on having things their way without a hint of willingness to compromise and threatening to ‘burn the house down’ otherwise, is a combination of foolish, ill-advised, reckless and detrimental actions to the future of this country,” said Graves, a former Republican governor of Kansas.

The situation has gotten so dire that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is reconsidering breaking its tradition of staying out of primary elections. Now, the largest business lobby is considering wading into the primary waters “to assist candidates who are willing to take a more pragmatic and responsible approach to governing and who are willing to give greater consideration to issues of concern to the business community,” Graves said.

Unfortunately, the landscape is unlikely to change before government funding runs out Jan. 15 and Washington’s borrowing power fades in early February. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and his Tea Party compatriots returned to their districts as heroes and see no need to change tactics for the next fight. It’s up to U.S. shippers and transportation providers to tell them why they should.

Contact Mark Szakonyi at and follow him at

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