This vote was on an amendment by John Cornyn, R-Texas, that would require the Transportation Department to inspect Mexican commercial trucks that operate beyond the 25-mile commercial zone along the U.S.-Mexico border every three months. It also would mandate that Mexican truck drivers demonstrate compliance with certain standards, including the ability to speak English. The amendment was offered to the bill that funds transportation and housing programs in fiscal 2008.
Cornyn’s amendment was intended to help alleviate concerns related to the recent implementation of a pilot program that allows a limited number of Mexican commercial trucks to operate deep inside America’s borders, and to head off other amendments that sought to cancel the program entirely. Mexican commercial trucks are currently limited to the 25-mile commercial zone along the U.S.-Mexico border. However, the administration recently started a program that allows 100 Mexican long-haul trucking companies to go beyond that zone.
There has been significant resistance to allowing Mexican trucks – which some consider particularly unsafe – to operate freely on American roads, even though it was mandated as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993. As part of that treaty, signatory countries (Canada, Mexico and the United States) agreed to grant full access to long-haul commercial trucks. In essence, this would mean allowing Mexican trucks to traverse the United States as they brought goods to Canada, and vice versa. But significant concerns about the condition, safety records and driver experience levels of Mexican long-haul operations have delayed implementing this part of the treaty, primarily through court cases and political maneuvering.
Cornyn said the U.S. must live up to its treaty obligations, “even if we don’t happen to like it.” He said the Transportation Department has adopted additional safeguards to ensure that the Mexican trucking companies participating in the pilot program meet safety standards. His amendment would go one step further, he said.
“My amendment, for the first time, will make it U.S. law that every truck participating in the demonstration program must be inspected every 3 months to the same standard as U.S. trucks. Every driver entering this country under the program will have to verify compliance with safety requirements, and they would have to do so every time they entered the United States,” Cornyn said.
Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., argued against Cornyn’s amendment, saying treaty or not, Congress has the power and responsibility to ensure that Americans are safe on our highways. He said he would be offering an amendment to bar the Mexican trucking pilot program in its entirety.
“This Congress has the right to make decisions about safety on our highways. We made those decisions in many ways with respect to our internal regulations, our internal standards, and we enforce those standards, but that equivalent enforcement does not exist in Mexico at this point. If it existed, we would have a database in Mexico that would tell us immediately and quickly accident reports on drivers and vehicles, vehicle inspections, and driver violations. No such database exists, and that is the problem. That is why I think this pilot project is unwise,” Dorgan said. He also raised the specter of a recent disaster in Mexico, where 34 people were killed when a truck full of explosives collided with another vehicle.
The Senate rejected Cornyn’s amendment by a vote of 29-69. All but one Democrat present voted against the amendment (Tom Carper of Delaware). Of Republicans present, 27 voted for the amendment, and 20 voted against it. The end result was that the measure went forward without language that would have required Mexican long-haul trucks operating 25 miles beyond the U.S.-Mexico border meet certain standards, and that they be inspected every three months.