Senate bill includes provision defunding cross-border truck program
In an 88-7 vote, the U.S. Senate passed a $104.6 billion transportation and housing bill Wednesday, including a provision that effectively defunds a Bush administration plan to allow Mexican-domiciled trucks unfettered access to U.s. highways.
The Senate passed the truck program provision of the bill on Tuesday by a vote of 75-23.
The Department of Transportation pilot program, which officially started on Sunday with a handful of trucks, seeks to authorize up to 600 pre-screened Mexican trucks to move beyond the current 20 to 25 miles U.S. border zone limit. Announced earlier this year, the program has faced litigation and vociferous criticism from elected officials, labor unions and community groups. Most have cited a perceived lack of safety within the Mexican trucking industry and threats to U.S. jobs as reasons for their opposition. DOT officials claim that the program contains adequate safeguards to protect the public.
“Since the DOT first indicated its intention to move forward with the cross-border trucking pilot program, I have argued the need to balance safety with efficient shipping. I do not believe that the DOT had struck this balance when they announced the start of the program last week,” said Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., during Wednesday debate on the Senate floor.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said during the debate that the DOT program highlights the inherent hazards of free trade agreements. “Our trade policies should allow us to establish and enforce our own public safety, health and environmental safeguards, which benefit American businesses, workers and consumers, instead of helping to ship millions of jobs overseas,” Feingold said.
The House counterpart to the Senate bill, which passed overwhelmingly in July, contains a similar provision removing funding from the DOT program. A House-Senate committee must now merge the two into a single bill that must be voted on a final time by both bodies before heading to the White House.
President Bush has stated his opposition to the defunding provision and has threatened to veto the entire transportation and housing bill.