By Jami Jones
Sen. Byron Dorgan doesn’t forget things easily.
When the U.S. Department of Transportation sidestepped legislation he sponsored in 2007 that cut off funding to the cross-border program with Mexico, he wasn’t pleased.
Dorgan has been fighting against this program for years. In 2007, he successfully passed legislation to block the program.
The DOT’s legal team determined the program could continue based on a very narrow interpretation of one word in the legislation.
Dorgan called it, “an arrogant disregard for the law.”
Dorgan’s amendment in the 2008 appropriations legislation stated: “None of the funds made available under this Act may be used to establish a cross-border motor carrier demonstration program to allow Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones along the international border between the United States and Mexico.”
The DOT attorneys zeroed in on the word “establish” and said that because the program started in September of 2007, and not after the legislation was signed into law, the program could continue.
Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, wasn’t pleased and defended the intent behind his legislation to no avail. The program continues to this day.
He is trying to prevent the same word game end-around on his legislative attempt to cut off funding of the program in the 2009 transportation appropriations legislation that is currently in the works.
“The Department of Transportation has already defied the intent of Congress once, and they are not going to get away with it again,” said Dorgan. “It is deplorable that the administration thinks it can pick and choose which laws they follow. Congress has already voted to end this program once. With this amendment, this program will finally come to an end.”
Dorgan’s amendment, if signed into law, would prohibit the DOT from spending any money, either directly or indirectly, to “establish, implement, continue, promote, or in any way permit a cross-border motor carrier demonstration program to allow Mexican-domiciled motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones.”
It would also cut the funding of ongoing programs, “… including continuing, in whole or in part, any such program that was initiated prior to the date of the enactment of this Act.”
The Senate Committee on Appropriations on July 10 approved the amendment, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-PA, by a vote of 20-9.
The amendment is now part of the full Fiscal Year 2009 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies legislation that later passed the Senate Committee.
The appropriations bill seeks to allocate to the Department of Transportation $66.8 billion, $2.1 billion more than for fiscal year 2008.
The cross-border program continues despite attacks on several fronts.
A pair of lawsuits, including one filed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, is pending with the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Oral arguments were made before the three-judge panel in February. At press time, no opinion had been released by the court.
Several lawmakers called on the government’s legal authority to determine whether the DOT’s continuance of the cross-border program is legal.
In March of this year, a bipartisan group of members from both the Senate and House sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office asking for an independent analysis of whether the DOT acted appropriately. That report had not yet been released as of press time. LL