SPECIAL REPORT: House votes to end cross-border program with Mexico

By Jami Jones, senior editor | 9/10/2008

Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2008 – Once again, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly has voted to put an end to the cross-border trucking program with Mexico.

The members of the House voted 395-18 late Tuesday to end the yearlong program that has allowed Mexican motor carriers full access to the U.S.

In the day leading up the vote, opposition to the bill came from very high up – the top in fact. The office of the president issued a Statement of Administrative Policy that basically told lawmakers that if the bill passed and eventually made its way to the president’s desk for a signature – he would veto it.

Apparently, not deterred by the threat, the measure passed the House with far more than a two-thirds majority, the majority needed to override a veto.

The bill passed by the House – HR6630 – not only calls for the program to end on its one-year anniversary, but also restricts the administration from launching any more cross-border programs without the approval of Congress.

The bipartisan bill was introduced in late July by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, and co-sponsors Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN, Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-TN, and Rep. John Mica, R-FL.

“This measure is particularly important in light of DOT’s recent announcement that they intend to act in blatant violation of Congressional intent and illegally continue the pilot for another two years,” DeFazio said.

“This Administration has been hell-bent on opening up our border, but has failed to show they can adequately inspect Mexican carriers while also maintaining a robust U.S. safety inspection program. The safety of the traveling public must come first – before the Administration’s fantasies about free trade.”

Perhaps putting the exclamation point on DeFazio’s point was Bob Filner, a Democrat from California. Filner drew on firsthand knowledge of fraud committed by Mexican truckers bringing loads into the U.S.

“I know what happens with these trucks at the border. … The (FMCSA) issues what it calls a tamper-proof sticker that says this truck is safe,” Filner told House members during debate of the bill on Tuesday. “I’ve been in Tijuana and have seen windshields with these ‘tamper-proof’ stickers put on another truck. … They also pass the papers around truck to truck.”

To see how your lawmaker voted on the measure, click here. The bill will now be sent to the Senate for consideration.

“Protecting American jobs and American drivers on the road should be our foremost consideration, not protecting this misguided program,” Rep. John McHugh, R-NY, a co-sponsor of HR6630 wrote on his blog leading up to the vote. “I am hopeful … the Senate will quickly follow suit.”

HR6630 moved through the House of Representatives at lightning speed. It took only 12 days in session to be passed from the time it was introduced.

DeFazio introduced the bill on July 29. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed it two days later – teeing the bill up for consideration by the full house when members returned from the recess on Sept. 8. The passage of the bill happened just two days after members of the House returned from recess.

The bill drew immediate support from the OOIDA.

“Our members have been active in fighting this program for a long time by voicing their concerns to lawmakers, and we thank them for staying involved,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president.

The bill calls for the ongoing cross-border trucking program with Mexico to end no later than Sept. 6, 2008 – one year to the day after the program was launched by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

As a first matter of business, the bill mandates an end to the current demonstration project. But, in a move to prevent any other programs from cropping up, the bill also seeks to restrict the U.S. Department of Transportation from granting authority to any more Mexico-based motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zone after Sept. 6.

The bill goes far beyond just seeking an end to the current program and preventing a new one from starting up. DeFazio and the other co-sponsors obviously want to know the real impact of the program. The bill mandates a couple of reports dissecting the goings-on in the program.

First, the bill reiterates the fact that the DOT’s Office of Inspector General is to complete a report reviewing complete compliance of the program as required by Section 6901 of The U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007.

Such OIG audits have been required since the passage of the 2002 transportation appropriations legislation Section 350. However, that legislation only required the OIG to sign off on FMCSA’s compliance on just eight provisions within Section 350 and update its audits annually. DOT officials could just certify that the department complied with the rest of Section 350.

Not so anymore with the passage of Section 6901. The law requires the Inspector General to certify DOT’s compliance with 22 additional provisions for conducting a cross-border program with Mexico.

The current bill calls for the audit of the 22 additional provisions to be completed 60 days after the bill is signed into law.

HR6630 also addresses oversight of the program. The bill seeks to establish an independent review panel that is to report to Congress on a variety of aspects of the program.

The independent panel is called on to:

  • Evaluate the effects on motor carrier safety, including an analysis of any wrecks involving motor carriers participating in the demonstration project;
  • Recommend modifications to the process of granting authority to Mexico-based motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones; and
  • Recommend modifications needed for monitoring future operations of participating carriers.

The bill also calls for the Secretary of Transportation to report on a variety of details on the program in a report to Congress. The secretary would be required by the bill to report to Congress:

  • The number and names of U.S. and Mexico-domiciled motor carriers that participated in the program and how many vehicles each one utilized;
  • The number of border crossings by each of the participating carriers, including the number of crossings that resulted in the motor carrier operating beyond the commercial zone;
  • An itemization of safety and operations violations found in pre-authorization safety audits, compliance reviews and roadside inspections along with a breakdown of the most frequent violations;
  • A cost analysis to both the federal government and the states for implementing and overseeing the cross-border program; and
  • Steps taken to terminate the authority to operate beyond commercial zones of motor carriers participating in the program after the end of the program.

To read HR6630, click here.

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