The U.S. Senate has dealt a likely death blow to the Bush administration plans to give Mexican long-haul trucking rigs free access to United States roads and highways. A bipartisan majority voted 74-24 tonight to pass an amendment offered by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., to remove funding from the Fiscal Year 2008 Department of Transportation appropriations bill for the Department of Transportation's "Mexican Trucking" demonstration project. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., joined Dorgan as a co-sponsor of his amendment. "Tonight, commercefor a changedid not trump safety," Dorgan said in a news release issued after the vote. "Tonight's vote is a vote for safety," Dorgan said. "It also represents a turning of the tide on the senseless, headlong rush this country has been engaged in for some time, to dismantle safety standards and a quality of life it took generations to achieve."
A counter amendment offered by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was submitted in an effort to keep the Mexican truck demonstration project alive, even if on life support. Cornyn had proposed to allow the demonstration project to go forward, while reserving the right of the Senate to pull the plug if safety problems developed in the initial phases of the program roll-out.
Cornyn's proposal was killed by a strong bipartisan 80-18 vote to table his amendment. Repeatedly, in arguing from the floor of the Senate for his amendment, Cornyn mischaracterized NAFTA as having created a "treaty obligation" requiring the United States to allow Mexican trucks free access to U.S. roads. Dorgan objected, pointing out that NAFTA was passed in 1993 as a law, not a treaty.
The vote, taken on the evening of the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, represented a strong sentiment in the Senate that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the DOT inspector general had failed to make the case in their eleventh hour reports submitted to Congress late last Thursday that adequate inspection procedures were in place to insure that Mexican trucks would meet U.S. safety standards.
Dorgan argued on the floor of the U.S. Senate that Mexico had no national database which would permit the FMCSA or the DOT inspector general to verify accident reports or driver violations of Mexican drivers or the reliability of vehicle inspections conducted in Mexico.
Speaking in favor of Dorgan's amendment, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the issue really was "free trade" agreements advanced by the Bush administration that advantaged only the multi-national corporations. Brown compared the safety concerns of allowing Mexican trucks to enter freely into the United States with the safety risks raised by lead paint use by the Chinese on imported toys and Chinese pet and human food that contained poisonous or otherwise toxic elements. And let's not forget about giving Dubai control over American seaports?
"We need to vote for our children, for our families, for our pets, and for ourselves," Brown charged, urging in an emotional plea that the Senate pass Dorgan's amendment.
In May, the House of Representatives passed the Safe American Roads Act of 2007 (H.R. 1773), by an overwhelming, bipartisan 411-3 margin. The majority in the House opposing the DOT Mexican trucking demonstration project makes almost certain that the Dorgan amendment will survive when a conference committee reviews the DOT funding bill that will go to President Bush for his signature. The Senate is now considered likely to finalize the DOT funding bill today, with the Dorgan amendment included.
"Because my amendment is identical to language already included in the House-passed version of this bill," Dorgan said in the press release issued after the vote, "I expect this provision will not be altered in the House-Senate conference committee and that we have, effectively, stopped this pilot program."