Senate Vote Slams NAFTA Pilot Project
The Senate yesterday evening approved an appropriations amendment to prohibit funding the NAFTA pilot program.
The pilot program opened the U.S.-Mexico border last Friday to long haul carrier operations despite numerous unresolved safety and compliance issues. This approval expresses lawmaker disdain for the demonstration project and once again demonstrates to the Bush administration the overwhelming public disapproval for the ill-planned and senselessly rushed pilot program.
The amendment to appropriations bill S. 1789, introduced by Senator Byron Dorgan and co-sponsored by Senator Arlen Specter, passed 74-24 with a strong showing of bipartisan support. The vote came just two days following a tragic accident in Mexico where a carrier truck loaded with dynamite exploded following a traffic accident, killing over 30 people.
Notably, the Senate also voted 69-29 against an amendment that would keep the pilot program funded while imposing more rigorous safety conditions. This rejection exhibits lawmaker sentiment that the pilot program, as shoved through by the Bush administration, contains too many critical safety concerns to be effectively remedied.
The House of Representatives also overwhelmingly disapproves of the pilot program and passed a similar bill to prohibit funding earlier this summer. Key House lawmakers Peter DeFazio and James Oberstar both issued scathing criticisms of the program last week citing numerous unresolved safety concerns. DeFazio initiated a campaign urging the Bush administration to reconsider launching the program, only to have the intent to proceed announced Thursday evening in the dark of night.
Because the House and Senate did not vote on the same amendment, it will be necessary to reconcile the competing versions before an appropriations bill containing the prohibition can become law. But since the Dorgan-Specter amendment passed yesterday contains language identical to the DeFazio bill passed earlier by the House, it is unlikely that any future reconciliation by the House-Senate Conference Committee will cut the prohibition from the bill.
Senator Dorgan remarked that the vote was a victory for safety on the American highways. Dorgan also indicated the vote should send a message to the Bush administration, stating specifically that the program “rejects the Administration’s action to push a program many of us believe would compromise the safety of American drivers.”
After the expected reconciliation of the competing House and Senate prohibitions, an appropriations bill containing the prohibition still must be signed by the President before becoming law and effectively blocking pilot program operation. The Bush administration clearly will not be pleased by the congressional slam of the pilot program, as it has incessantly pushed the program despite its blatant and consistent critical safety flaws. The Bush administration has threatened veto of the general transportation appropriations bill, citing potential impermissible overspending as justification. While the Statement of Administration Policy indicates a NAFTA pilot program prohibition concerns the Bush administration, it does not explicitly indicate that a congressional prohibition would merit exercise of veto power.