The House voted Tuesday to end a pilot program giving Mexican trucks access to U.S. highways – despite a White House veto threat.
The Bush administration stressed that the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement obligates the U.S. to open up American roads to Mexican truckers, and that terminating the year-old demonstration project would have repercussions for American trucks allowed into Mexico. The administration said passage of the House bill "would pose significant and immediate risks to U.S. interests."
The pilot project, which permits up to 500 trucks from 100 Mexican companies access to U.S. roads, is opposed by trucking, consumer and environmental groups who say it would eliminate American jobs. They feel that Mexican trucks are subject to less stringent safety regulations, that Mexico lacks adequate drug testing and hours-of service standards and that the program could contribute to smuggling or insurance fraud.
"I'm outraged that the Bush administration for political purposes would jeopardize the safety of the traveling public in the United States," said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Transportation subcommittee on highways.
The 395-18 House vote was well above the two-thirds needed to override a presidential veto. The bill would end the authority of the administration to go forward with the program without congressional approval. The Senate Appropriations Committee has attached similar language to a transportation spending bill, although that bill is unlikely to be enacted before President Bush leaves office.
Congress last December passed legislation banning funding to "establish" a program to allow U.S.-certified Mexican trucks to carry loads across the border, but the Transportation Department said that bill did not apply to a program that had already started. Several groups, including the Teamsters, Sierra Club and Public Citizen, have gone to federal court to challenge that interpretation.
The administration last month said it intended to continue the pilot program for two more years.