As Republicans' wave of Election Day victories propelled them to control of the Senate and an increased House majority, construction industry officials hold out hope for bipartisan infrastructure bills in the new Congress, especially a new surface-transportation measure, and also see encouraging signs for energy legislation.
Although the GOP won big on Nov. 4, its new power is far from absolute. If the inter-party fights that tied up the current Congress erupt again, gridlock could return.
Republicans lack the 60 Senate votes needed to break a filibuster and are far short of the two-thirds majorities required in both chambers to overturn a presidential veto.
Still, Republican gains were striking. As of the early hours of Nov. 5, the GOP was projected to achieve a net gain of at least seven Senate seats, giving the GOP a 52-48 majority. Other Republican gains were possible as final resuits come in from a contest in Alaska and close races elsewhere.
In the House, Republicans were projected to increase their 233 seats by at least 14.
Construction industry officials hope that enough dealmaking desire will surface in the 114th Congress to result in action on infrastructure legislation, especially a multiyear highway-transit bill.
President Obama sees bipartisan possibilities in spending for public works. He said at a Nov. 5 press conference, "Traditionally, both parties have been for creating jobs rebuilding our infrastructure—our roads, bridges, ports, waterways. I think we can hone in on a way to pay for it through tax reform that closes loopholes and make it more attractive for companies to create jobs here in the United States."
Brian Turmail, an Associated General Contractors of America spokesman, said via email, "Moving forward, we will work hard to encourage Congress and the administration to find common ground on key issues such as infrastructure funding, workforce development measures and tax and immigration reform."
Geoff Burr, Associated Builders and Contractors vice president of government affairs, said, "We look forward to working with the new Republican majority in the Senate and are hopeful that we now have a Congress that will rise above the gridlock we have seen in the past few years and work with industry in crafting pro-growth legislation that will allow our members to be successful in our business and create jobs in their communities."
Steve Hall, American Council of Engineering Companies vice president of government affairs, said in an interview that the construction-industry impact of the GOP's Election Day success "depends on which majority shows up in 2015."
He adds, "If they're serious about moving legislation that can be signed into law, I think that bodes well for moving a highway bill, moving an [aviation] reauthorization bill and making progress on energy."
Hall says, "I think the one big takeaway is the fact that the energy agenda may get new life in the new Congress." That would include advancing the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, energy exploration, natural gas and pipeline permitting.
On the other hand, if the GOP's tea party wing asserts itself and pushes partisan bills, Senate Democrats are likely to react by trying to block them. If those attempts don't succeed, Obama could veto the measures and the GOP's majorities would be unable to override the vetoes.
Looking ahead, Association of Equipment Manufacturers President Dennis Slater said in a statement, "An immediate order of business should be responsibly fixing the Highway Trust Fund by restoring the gas tax to its 1993 buying power while oil prices are at recent record lows."
He also listed several other measures, including a bill to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. A long-pending application to build a $3.3-billion segment of that project, which would run from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska, is awaiting action by the State Dept.
Sean McGarvey, president of North America's Building Trades Unions, said in a statement, "The message sent by the American electorate...was plain and simple: they are tired and fed up with partisan warfare and incessant gridlock."
He added, "A good place to start would be to work with the administration on crafting an effective and robust plan to invest in the rebuilding of America's crumbling infrastructure, as well as approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and the formulation of a comprehensive national energy policy."
The big test will be a new surface-transportation bill. Lawmakers will have to act by May 31, when the current short-term highway-transit extension runs out.
Industry officials point out that one of the few measures to be enacted this year in a contentious Congress was an infrastructure bill, the $12-billion Water Resources Reform and Development Act, or WRRDA. That legislation cleared both chambers by wide, bipartisan majorities.
But compared to WRRDA, a five- or six-year surface-transportation measure would be a much tougher task, because it would require a large revenue infusion, from additional taxes or some other source, for the ailing Highway Trust Fund.
Top lawmakers' early post-election comments struck conciliatory notes. The next Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), speaking to supporters after he won re-election, noted that he and Obama have different views of the world.
But McConnell said, "We do have an obligation to work together on issues where we can agree." He added, "Just because we have a two-party system doesn't mean we have to be in perpetual conflict."
The current Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-Nev.), issued a statement congratulating McConnell and added, "The message from voters is clear: they want us to work together. I look forward to working with Senator McConnell to get things done for the middle class."
In the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that "this is not a time for celebration." He added, "It's time for government to start getting results and implementing solutions to the challenges facing our country, starting with our still-struggling economy."
Early signals of each party's attitudes could emerge in the lame duck session scheduled to start on Nov. 12.
Congress will have to pass legislation by Dec. 11 to fund government agencies, including construction programs, through part or all of fiscal year 2015. Other items on the agenda are possible extensions for multiemployer pension plan and terrorism risk insurance measures that lapse on Dec. 31.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told reporters on Nov. 5 that voters gave lawmakers a clear mandate to focus on the "basics," including passing a budget. "Appropriations... will be front and center," he said.