WASHINGTON — The two Obama administration officials most closely associated with developing a new cross border trucking program with Mexico have been warned by two U.S. Senators from Washington state that it’s time to move the process forward.
The urging of one — Sen. Patty Murray — prompted Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to say the administration was close to coming up with a proposal for a program to replace the program killed by Congress one year ago.
LaHood was testifying at a hearing about the 2011 DOT budget before the Senate Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, which Murray chairs.
In response to a question by subcommittee Chairman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who asked for an update on the Mexico truck program, LaHood said, “We are finalizing the plan. The reason it’s taken so long is because there are a lot of different moving parts, including about five different Cabinet officials and every time we make a tweak or a change everybody has to sign off on it.
“We’re very near a proposal that we think will meet all of the safety concerns that I heard when I talked to 25 members of Congress.”
LaHood’s office would not speculate what “very near” meant in terms of time.
Murray shared her concerns about how the tariffs Mexico imposed on over 90 exports in the wake of end of the program had impacted her state.
“Those tariffs were imposed on over 90 U.S. products and undermined the competitiveness of many agricultural products in my home state of Washington,” she said. “If we’re not able to find a path forward with Mexico on this issue, these tariffs are going to send American jobs north to Canada as our growers and our processors and our packers are being forced to relocate and it is threatening the livelihood of many communities in my state. Now I appreciate there are a lot of concerns about implementing this cross border trucking, but we’ve got to work with Mexico to address this impasse and move forward.”
Murray said the cross border program was critical to a number of industries in her state.
“Will you please tell the folks you are talking to in the White House and others that we need to get this done?” she said when LaHood had finished.
LaHood’s statements followed by one day testimony by U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who admitted Wednesday that the tariffs imposed by Mexico in retaliation for the U.S. ending the cross border trucking program had hurt the U.S. economy.
“It has not been a positive for our trade policy. We want to get it resolved,” Kirk told members of the Senate Finance Committee at a hearing on the U.S. 2010 trade agenda.
Kirk’s comments came at the end of a brief dialogue with Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat and the other U.S. Senator from Washington state, near the end of the hearing.
Meanwhile, 56 lawmakers have sent a letter to Kirk and LaHood urging the Obama administration to resolve the nearly year-long dispute that started when Congress killed the Mexico cross border program in the 2009 appropriations bill.
Kirk’s answer to Cantwell’s question about progress on the administration’s plan to come up with a new cross border plan did not elicit any new news about the issue.
Kirk thanked committee members for helping pass a 2010 appropriations bill that did not include language prohibiting a cross border program, and then said, “President Obama, as you know, has asked Secretary LaHood to help us move forward and work with Congressional leadership to come up with an acceptable program to get this resolved. It is having a very negative impact, particularly on our agricultural industries in Washington and Texas and we’d like to come up with an acceptable program to move forward.”
Cantwell noted that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated the dispute has cost the U.S. economy some $2.6 billion and 25,000 American jobs.
The first signatures on the letter sent to Kirk and LaHood are those of Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., who it was reported on thetrucker.com on Feb. 5 were in the process of drafting a letter calling for a resolution to the dispute and were preparing to ask colleagues to sign the letter. To read the story click here.
The letter, delivered March 1, noted that the tariffs have had “a devastating impact on our local industries and area economies. Therefore, given the importance of this matter to our constituents, we urge you to immediately implement a plan of action to rectify this situation.”
A spokesperson for Kirk’s office said the U.S. Trade Office and the Department of Transportation were working on a response to the letter.
The lawmakers wrote that the current situation was unsustainable and untenable.
"Our constituents need help immediately and we implore you to work quickly to implement a solution that ensures safety and normalizes trade. Please communicate your plans for a solution so we are better able to understand the administration's strategy," the lawmakers said.
Congress terminated funding in the fiscal year 2009 omnibus appropriations bill for a pilot program that allowed trucks from Mexico into the U.S. to deliver loads beyond the commercial trade zone and trucks from the U.S. to do the same in Mexico.
Editor Lyndon Finney of The Trucker staff may be contacted to comment at email@example.com.