SPECIAL REPORT: Senate yanks funding from cross-border program

| 9/12/2007

Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2007 – Funding for the Bush administration’s cross-border trucking program with Mexico took a big hit, thanks to a 75-23 vote in the Senate late Tuesday that approved an amendment cutting funding to the program.

Next, the House and Senate will get together on the funding bill. However, then it will go to the president, who says he will veto.

U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, offered the amendment Monday, Sept. 10, to the Senate’s version of the FY 2008 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill. The amendment calls for a stop to the Bush administration’s pilot program that now allows Mexican trucks to haul freight throughout the United States. The amendment was co-sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-PA.

“I offer on behalf of myself and Sen. Specter an amendment – bipartisan, with a good many cosponsors – that says, ‘let’s stop this pilot program,’ ” Dorgan said.

When Dorgan’s amendment came up for debate late Tuesday, it was countered by another amendment offered by Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX. His amendment sought to allow the program to go forward with trucks being inspected only once every three months.

“My colleague will offer an amendment that sounds as if it is wrapped in a bouquet of flowers. The very last sentence says: Let’s fund this project,” Dorgan said about the Cornyn amendment. “So we can skip the preamble and say: Do you want to fund this project or not? Do you believe we ought to have long-haul trucks from Mexico under these circumstances at this time or don’t you?

“If you believe we are not ready, that there is not and will not be, at this point, equivalent standards and enforcement and, therefore, assured safety for the American people, if you believe that – and I think the evidence is clear – then you vote for the amendment I have offered with Sen. Specter and others.”

In illustrating how the current cross-border program misses the mark on safety, Dorgan outlined the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General’s most recent report on the program and the deficiencies on the program. He called special attention to how the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration responded to the report when it was released late last week.

“There is an old saying: Never buy something from somebody who is out of breath. There is a kind of breathless quality to what the Department of Transportation did last Thursday night. They get the IG report at 7:30; at 8:30 they announced, we made a decision: We got the report, studied it – we have some of the fastest lawyers in the world waiting on this – and away we go,” Dorgan said.

“Well, let me talk about what they missed. They missed the three key points with respect to the standards of safety, because the inspector general’s report said there is no data bank, no massive information with respect to accident reports, vehicle inspections, or driver violations in Mexico with Mexican trucking.

“The fact is they do not have equivalent enforcement in Mexico. That is just a fact. If you think there is equivalency between Canada, the United States, and Mexico, you just miss it.”

The members of the Senate apparently didn’t “miss it,” because Dorgan’s amendment was added to the FY 2008 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill by a vote of 75-23. Click here to see how they voted.

Cornyn’s counter amendment failed 29-69.

An amendment cutting off all funding for any sort of cross-border program with Mexican motor carriers passed the House Tuesday, July 24, as part of its 2008 transportation appropriations bill.

Once the Senate passes its FY 2008 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill, the two appropriations bills will be reconciled in a conference committee with representatives from both the Senate and House.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor