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Congress cuts funding for Mexican trucks

Congress has passed a bill that cuts funding for the controversial Mexican truck program, but lawmakers expect the Bush administration to keep the foreign vehicles rolling on American roads amid safety and security concerns.

Joe Kasper, spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., told WND that “without federal funding, it will be difficult to continue the program. However, we must expect that the administration will continue looking for ways to do so.”

The newly passed 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act prohibits the Department of Transportation from using the funds in it “to establish a cross-border motor carrier demonstration program to allow Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones along the international border between the United States and Mexico.”

“In a Democratic-sponsored spending bill filled with rewards for special interests, this is actually one of the few beneficial provisions included in the bill,” Kasper said.

He points out Bush is expected to sign the bill.

“Congressman Hunter introduced the first bill in Congress to stop the program from moving forward and never relented in his effort to ensure the safety of our roadways and that American security would not be threatened by an inundation of foreign motor carriers,” Kasper said.

Ten Mexican carriers, with another 37 awaiting final approval, are now operating under the program. Four American carrier are allowed to drive on Mexican roads.

Clayton Boyce, vice president of public affairs for the American Trucking Association said Congress “has clearly expressed its will on the issue, and we are waiting to see what the Department of Transportation’s next step will be.”

“There are four U.S. trucking companies with 41 trucks in the cross-border program. If the demonstration program ends, there will be no U.S. trucks crossing the border,” Boyce explained.

Congress has expressed its will before, however, and the program has continued.

Kasper said Hunter, a presidential candidate, “intends to work against any effort by the administration, just as he did over the last year, to ensure the brakes are put on this program once and for all.”

The American Trucking Association hopes the Mexican project will be successful.

“We have generally supported NAFTA and the cross-border trucking program as an improvement in cross-border efficiency,” said Boyce.

“We had expected that the demonstration program would prove whether the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration can regulate and ensure the safety of Mexican trucks and drivers traveling in the United States,” he said.

Opposition to the program comes not only from the U.S. Congress but from the other side of the border as well. The Mexican National Truck Drivers Federation plans to block the border between Mexico and the U.S. in January if the program doesn’t come to an end, according to the Mexican newspaper El Financiero.

“It is irresponsible of the Mexican government, of (President) Felipe Calderon, to allow the interests of a powerful 2 percent of people in the Mexican economy to hand Mexican trucking over to the Americans,” Elias Dip Rame, president of the Mexican National Truck Drivers Federation, told the paper.

If American trucks are able to continue operating in Mexico, the ATA expects them to be protected.

“In any situation, we expect Mexico’s authorities to protect U.S. drivers and vehicles lawfully in that country,” Boyce said.

Melissa Delaney, spokeswoman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, was contacted by phone and e-mail but declined comment.

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Michael Howe is a free-lance writer and radio talk show host who has covered political and legislative issues for several magazines. He resides in the Denver area where he serves on the faculty of Morgan Community College.