- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Senate yesterday ignored veto threats and passed a transportation and housing bill that stripped funding for a Bush administration program that gives Mexican truckers greater access to U.S. roads.

The Senate passed the $106 billion spending bill by a 88-7 vote, rejecting President Bush’s proposed cuts to Amtrak, housing programs and community-development projects.

It’s the fourth of 12 appropriations bills to pass the Senate, even though the new budget year begins in less than three weeks.

Differences between the Senate bill and a similar House version will be worked out in a conference between the two chambers.

The White House has threatened to veto both versions on the grounds they are too costly.

The Senate on Tuesday voted 74-24 to approve a proposal by Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, to prohibit the Transportation Department from spending money on a pilot program that gives up to 100 Mexican-based trucking companies full access to U.S. highways.

Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress have opposed the one-year program, which began last week, saying that Mexican trucks and drivers are unsafe.

Mr. Dorgan said the vote was a “victory for safety,” and a repudiation of the “administration’s action to push a program many of us believe would compromise the safety of American drivers.”

Transportation Department officials say Mexican carriers operating in the United States must adhere to the same safety standards as U.S. trucks.

The “decision by the Senate is a sad victory for the politics of fear and protectionism and a disappointing defeat for U.S. consumers and U.S. truck drivers,” said John H. Hill, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Transportation Department division that is overseeing the program.

Transportation officials say they will work with Capitol Hill lawmakers to restore funding for the program. In the meantime, however, the program will continue.

The program also allows for an equal number of U.S. trucking companies to make deliveries and pickups in Mexico.

Mexican-registered trucks previously had been allowed to make deliveries and pickups in the United States only within special commercial zones along the U.S.-Mexican border that extend up to about 25 miles inside U.S. territory.

The spending bill also includes $200 million to provide aid to nonprofits and other groups that offer counseling and information to help homeowners with subprime mortgages avoid foreclosures.

The Senate rejected an amendment from Sen. Tom Coburn that would have forced lawmakers to trade local pork-barrel spending projects to pay for national infrastructure upgrades like for the Interstate 35 bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis last month.

The Oklahoma Republican’s anti-earmark measure was defeated by an 82-14 vote.

Eric Pfeiffer contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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