Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.
The $410 billion omnibus funding bill headed toward President Obama’s desk for signing contains a carefully worded measure that would shut down the Bush administration demonstration project allowing 100 Mexican trucking companies to run their long-haul rigs throughout the U.S. in direct competition with American truckers.
The issue became rancorous over the past two years as Bush administration Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters fought off repeated efforts by Congress to confine Mexican trucks to a narrow 20-mile-wide commercial area north of the southern border.
In what appears to be a major victory for Teamster boss James Hoffa, the Obama administration worked closely with Senate Democrats, including Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota to toughen up language of an amendment Dorgan successfully had inserted in the DOT fiscal year 2008 appropriations bill.
Keeping Mexican trucks south of the border appears to be a reward to organized labor for its support of Obama’s presidential campaign last year.
The move comes as a blow to free trade advocates in the Republican Party that have pushed hard for new ways to open the Mexican border for increased opportunities between the two countries.
“The driving public is put at risk when trucks from Mexico that don’t meet U.S. standards are allowed to roam our highways,” Hoffa said in a statement. “The Mexican government has not held up their end of the bargain to meet U.S. standards.”
Hoffa said Mexican trucks are “unsafe and Mexican drivers are not required to meet the same criteria that American drivers must meet to earn a commercial drivers license.” Hoffa said.
“It’s long past time to close the border to these unguided missiles,” he said.
WND reported that after the truck project begun, an examination of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration database revealed hundreds of safety violations by Mexican long-haul rigs rolling on U.S. roads under the project.
Opponents of the project have contended that Mexican trucks and truck drivers do not reliably meet U.S. standards.
As WND reported, in a contentious Senate hearing last March, Dorgan in tight questioning got Peters to admit that Mexican drivers were being designated at the border as “proficient in English” even though they could explain U.S. traffic signs only in Spanish.
In the tense hearing, Dorgan accused Peters of being “arrogant” and recklessly disregarding a congressional vote to stop the Mexican project by taking funds away.
As WND reported, opposition in the House was led by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who in September 2007 accused the Bush administration of having a “stealth plan” to allow Mexican long-haul rigs on U.S. roads.
“This administration [of President George W. Bush] is hell-bent on opening our borders,” DeFazio said, “but has failed to require that Mexican drivers and trucks meet the same safety and security standards as U.S. drivers and trucks.”
Previously, Peters had argued the wording of the Dorgan amendment did not prohibit the Transportation Department from stopping a Mexican truck project already under way, even if the measure prohibited DOT from starting any new project.
Despite strong congressional opposition, the Department of Transportation under President Bush had announced it planned in its final months to extend the truck project for another two years – an attempt to force the incoming Obama administration to comply.
The restrictions passed in the Omnibus Funding Bill will limit Mexican trucks to a 20-mile commercial zone north of the Mexican border, except in Arizona, where the limit is 75 miles.