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Meanwhile, A Debate Over Mexican Trucks

September 11, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker’s Iraq progress report has, appropriately, occupied just about all of the attention that anyone’s been willing to give to Congress over the last two days. But today the military leaders’ controversial report managed to soak up even the Senate’s attention as a Republican-backed amendment condemning’s “General Betrayus” ad stalled progress on, H.R. 3074, the Department of Transportation Appropriations bill.

The amendment was eventually ruled non-germane and dismissed, and the Senate moved quickly onto considering a timely and germane amendment from Byron Dorgan (D-ND) that would cut funding for a brand-new pilot program that is allowing a limited number of Mexican trucks to haul freight throughout the U.S. The program, which has its origins in NAFTA, was included, in part, in the supplemental appropriations bill that Congress passed in May. For thirteen years many members of Congress, the Teamsters Union, and several environmental groups managed to keep the program from actually taking effect. Dorgan’s amendment would keep up the fight by barring the Department of Transportation from using any of its appropriated funds for executing the pilot program. In a press release, Dorgan explains why he opposes the pilot program:
>The Bush Administration rushed to implement the pilot program late last week – literally in the dark of night. It was launched just one hour after a required Transportation Department Inspector General’s report was issued. That report identified numerous problems with allowing the program to go forward.
>"They didn’t even wait for the ink to dry, much less read the report or consider the questions it raised," Dorgan said.
>He described the Administration’s hurried action as “arrogant” and said that it “puts Americans at risk” because Mexican enforcement of truck and driver standards are “much less rigorous” than in the United States."
>A spectacular crash of two Mexican trucks earlier Monday in northern Mexico makes the point that the need is for caution, not speed, in allowing Mexican trucks to travel throughout the United States, Dorgan said. Two trucks collided in northern Mexico. One was loaded with explosives. The accident left 37 dead and a 65 foot crater in the road.

The New York Times today editorialized in favor of the pilot program. Here’s their argument:

>The Teamsters and their environmental allies claim that the trucks aren’t safe and are dirty. A new pilot program, however, would require that any Mexican trucks approved for entry into the United States be inspected for safety every three months. Environmental regulations that apply to American trucks would also apply to Mexican trucks.
>That’s not enough to satisfy the Teamsters, which, we suspect, are just trying to stave off the competition. And it’s not been enough for the Sierra Club, which doesn’t trust the Bush administration — or the Clinton administration before that — to enforce environmental standards.
>That stubbornness is counterproductive. Keeping Mexican trucks out only keeps transport costs higher, harming American businesses and consumers. It sends Mexico the message that the United States doesn’t stand by its commitments, and it reinforces suspicions that when it comes to free trade, the United States only likes it one way.

The Senate is hoping to vote on the Dorgan amendment and pass the DoT appropriations bill later this evening. They are far behind on approving appropriations, and Democrats are hoping to finish up work on the bills in time so they can avoid having to pile them together into a last-minute omnibus bill or a temporary continuing resolution. Completing work on the individual spending bills would put the Democratic Congress in a much stronger positiongoing into the inevitable fight with the Administration over the public’s perception of fiscal superiority. Were Republicans thinking ahead to this battle when they slowed things down by introducing their MoveOn amendment? Seems likely. They probably weren’t thinking about this though.

UPDATE: The Dorgan amendment was adopted. Click here to see the roll call.

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