SPECIAL REPORT: House OKs bill to nix cross-border program funding

| 11/16/2007

Friday, Nov. 16, 2007 – An appropriations bill, already approved by the House, is now in the hands of the U.S. Senate and it could kill federal funding for the cross-border trucking program with Mexico. But President Bush has already threatened to kill the legislation.

The Senate was initially expected to vote on the final version of the transportation appropriations bill this week, but discussions of a farm bill stalled it. No action is anticipated until Congress returns from its Thanksgiving recess on Dec. 4.

“Unfortunately, the Senate got caught up on the farm bill and just simply ran out of time,” said Rod Nofziger, OOIDA’s director of government affairs in Washington, DC.

With a hefty majority vote of 270-147, members of the House approved the bill Wednesday night, Nov. 14. It includes $105.6 billion to fund transportation and housing programs for the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.

Government programs have been kept up and running at current levels with a temporary “continuing resolution” while the appropriations bill made its way through the House and Senate and a conference committee made up of members from both chambers.

In addition to the provision that would kill funding for the Bush administration’s cross-border trucking program for a year, the appropriations bill also includes an amendment that would prohibit tolling on interstates in Texas.

Bush has said that the bill is irresponsible and includes excessive spending and that he will veto it if it reaches his desk in its current form.

Even with the strong House vote on Wednesday of 270-147, the lower chamber of Congress was just short of a veto-proof margin of two-thirds on the final version of the bill.

On the other side of the Capitol Building in the Senate, members had a veto-proof margin on Oct. 16 when they approved their chamber’s version of the bill, but it is unknown whether the revised version from the conference committee will have the same level of support, but OOIDA leaders remain optimistic.

“By including the provision in the conference committee version of the bill, Congress has once again shown its strong opposition to the pilot program,” OOIDA’s Nofziger said.

“I’d guess that most folks at DOT will be relieved that there is an end in sight to the lengthy distraction caused by the pilot program.”

In opposing the transportation bill, some Republicans are supporting the Bush administration’s contention that the bill includes too much money for “earmarks” for specific projects generally supported by individual lawmakers.

House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. David R. Obey, D-WI, said the conference committee version of the bill includes about $1.2 billion in earmarks, which represents about 1 percent of the bill’s total funding, according to reports from Congressional Quarterly.

Obey also pointed out that the previous transportation funding bill – which was signed by Bush – had $20 billion in earmarks.

“I find it quaint that he now purports to be upset because this bill contains one-twentieth of the earmarked level of bills that he has previously signed,” Obey told Congressional Quarterly this week.

In addition to the amendments to kill funding for the cross-border program and bar tolling on interstates in Texas, which would both last for the next year only, the appropriations bill includes an additional $1 billion for bridge inspections and maintenance. The money would be pulled from the Highway Trust Fund.

The bill also includes $195 million for replacing the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis that collapsed in August.

Overall, as approved by the conference committee and the House, the bill includes $40.2 billion for highway programs, which is $631 more than Bush requested.

– By Coral Beach, staff editor