Republicans' takeover of the House and gains in the Senate could make major funding increases in infrastructure bills harder to achieve in 2011.

With some races still unsettled as of the afternoon of Nov. 3, the GOP had scored a net increase of 60 seats in the House, giving the party a total of 239. Democrats hung on to the Senate, though their majority had dwindled to 51, from 59 prior to the election.

Among the Democratic casualties were some House committee chairmen, including James Oberstar (Minn.), head of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a fixture on that panel for more than 30 years.

Jeffrey Shoaf, the Associated General Contractors' senior executive director for government affairs, says, "It was a 'wave' election that was driven by national issues and members of Congress are going to be very careful how they vote on big national issues in the future."

Much of the construction industry's legislative focus next year will be on the delayed surface-transportation reauthorization, but a multi-year aviation bill and annual appropriations for construction programs also are on the agenda.

With Republicans' seeing the election results as, at least in part, an endorsement of their anti-spending stance, getting strong public-works funding numbers in those measures will be difficult.

"It's an uphill battle. There's no question," says Jay Hansen, National Asphalt Pavement Association vice president for government affairs. "The Republican platform of smaller government, cut taxes runs totally against the grain of a bigger transportation program and an increase in user fees."

Pam Whitted, National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association vice president for government affairs, says, "I think it's going to be a time of reduced spending, focus on the economy and growth and jobs."

She adds that what that means for the surface transportation reauthorization is probably "a much slimmed-down bill."

Both parties see deficit reduction as a priority. Republicans' "Pledge to America" calls for rolling back spending to 2008 levels. President Obama also proposed a freeze on "non-security" funding in his 2011 budget plan.

AGC calculates that a Republican rollback to 2008 budget levels would put total funding for about 80 federal construction programs at about $107 billion, says Shoaf.

President Obama also wants to cut the deficit. Shoaf says that Obama has instructed departments and agencies to prepare fiscal 2012 budget proposals with 5% cuts below the amounts in his budget request for 2011. That would put spending for those 80 construction accounts at about $106 billion, according to AGC.

Thus, if either side's plan is eventually approved, the result would be about the same for construction overall in 2012.

Within that total, amounts for individual programs could see increases, but then others would have to have deeper reductions. Shoaf says that "it's a zero-sum world, especially if they're talking about hard budget caps."

Although partisan battling has been fierce, some construction industry observers hold out hope that the GOP will seek legislative compromises with Democrats, in order to show voters some tangible accomplishments.

NSSGA's Whitted says, "What the American people said is, 'We don't like what's been gong on. We want you guys to work with each other to get things done for America.'"

Obama said in a Nov. 3 press conference that he sees issues on which Democrats and Republicans can reach compromises, mentioning energy policy as an example.

Construction officials hope that infrastructure will be another area of common ground.

AGC's Shoaf says House transportation committee leaders may see an early opportunity to do a deal on the multi-year aviation measure, a bill that is more than three years overdue.

He says, "I'm sure that...the new committee chair and the new ranking member are going to be wanting to get some points on the board so that they can work together and pass things. And hopefully that'll happen with aviation."

Shoaf adds that compared to the surface transportation bill, aviation is "an easier bill to put together. The funding's not nearly as hard [a problem] to solve."