This week in Congress: Compromises on NAFTA proposed

| 11/14/2001

As work begins between the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate on a final transportation spending bill, the deadlock on the Mexican truck issue ensues despite compromise offers from both sides.

When the Senate and the House left town for an August recess, three different positions had been staked out on the issue. First the House passed a one year ban on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) from registering Mexican trucks to operate in the United States. Then the Senate passed a comprehensive list of preconditions that Mexican Motor Carriers and the FMCSA must meet before the border opens. Both bills drew the strong opposition of Senators Phil Gramm (R-TX), John McCain (R-AZ), and Kit Bond (R-MO) and a veto threat from the Bush Administration.

Border security have become a topic of heightened interest since Sept. 11, but this has not deterred the Bush administration. Despite the call by many for increased border enforcement, the White House has indicated that these concerns have not deterred it from pursuing a swift opening of the border.

Now Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) have proposed a compromise to address the Bush administration's specific objections. The original Murray-Shelby amendment required Mexican carriers to purchase insurance from American companies, required every border crossing to have fixed scales and weigh-in-motion technology, and required Mexican trucks to undergo inspection each time it crossed the border into the United States. In the new Murray-Shelby compromise, Mexican carriers would be required to purchase insurance from a U.S. licensed insurance company; Mexican trucks would only have to be inspected every 90 days; and while all border crossings are required to have scales to enforce weight restrictions, only the 10 busiest border crossings would be required to have weigh-in-motion scales.

The Murray-Shelby compromise continues to include a comprehensive list of preconditions to the border opening, including the mandatory on-site inspection of Mexican carriers, the computer validation of each Mexican driver's license by federal and state inspectors, and the requirement that Mexican trucks only make border crossings where a certified motor carrier safety inspector is on duty.

The House and Senate appropriators may meet as early as today (Nov. 14), but it is unclear how long their meetings may take or in what form a compromise on Mexican trucks may take.

These meetings must also resolve differences in spending priorities on various Department of Transportation programs.
--Paul Cullen Jr.