House Transportation Chairman Shuster to Retire
January 10, 2018
Representative Bill Shuster (R-PA), the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, announced on January 2 that he will not seek re-election to the House this year and will retire at the end of this term.
“It has been one of my life’s greatest honors to serve and represent the citizens of the 9th District for 17 years. It has also been a tremendous privilege to have been selected by my congressional colleagues to be Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for the last five years. I am proud of the legislation the Committee has passed into law, most with bipartisan votes. This is my final year as Chairman, and we have much still to do.”
In 2007, only his sixth year in the House, new T&I ranking minority member John Mica (R-FL) selected Shuster, then 18th in seniority amongst committee Republicans, to be ranking minority member of the Railroads Subcommittee. Shuster then chaired that subcommittee when the GOP took back the House in 2011-2012 and was selected by party leaders for the full committee chairmanship starting in January 2013.
Shuster’s decision was not unexpected. House rules imposed by Republicans when they took back the House in 1995 limit the service of committee and subcommittee chairmen to no more than six consecutive years, and internal House GOP rules apply that limit to service as ranking minority member of a panel as well. Shuster’s six years as the head Republican on T&I will expire at the end of 2018. Research by the Brookings Institution indicates that the term limits on chairmen are a key driver of retirements, and Shuster’s father chose to retire from the House after his six years as T&I chairman (1995-2000) were up as well.
And aside from the term limit as chairman, Shuster has also been having an increasingly difficult time retaining the Republican nomination for his seat in Congress. This is in part due to natural restlessness in a district that has been held by the same father-son combination for 45 years (remember that the GOP nominating convention after Bud Shuster’s early 2001 resignation only gave Bill Shuster 69 of 133 votes, with five other contenders splitting the other 64 votes – and a secret ballot vote might have taken Shuster below 50 percent). Also, the 9th District, while solidly Republican, has become a hotbed of the anti-Washington “drain the swamp” mentality, making it hard for a committee chairman who has to strike deals in order to move major legislation. Shuster was held to 52.8 percent of the vote in the 2014 GOP primary and just 50.6 percent in 2016.
Shuster’s statement said “Rather than focusing on a re-election campaign, I thought it wiser to spend my last year as Chairman focusing 100% on working with President Trump and my Republican and Democratic colleagues in both Chambers to pass a much needed infrastructure bill to rebuild America.” Shuster has also mentioned the need to push air traffic control reform legislation, stalled in the House since last fall, over the finish line in 2018.
His retirement amplifies a brain drain at the top of the Republican side of the committee. Between Shuster and Reps. Jimmy Duncan (R-TN) and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), who are also retiring, the GOP side of the aisle will lose 70 years of service on the panel at the end of 2018 (18 years from Shuster, 30 years from Duncan and 22 from LoBiondo).
Contenders for Shuster’s replacement as chairman (or as ranking minority member in the event that the GOP loses its House majority this fall, which seems increasingly possible) are Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO), chairman of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, and Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), chairman of the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee.