Political shadowboxing

Randy Grider
[email protected]

George McFly: Do you really think I oughta swear?

Marty McFly: Yes, definitely. %*@& it, George, swear.

The never-ending cross-border trucking debate is reminiscent of a subplot of the 1985 smash-hit movie Back to the Future. The above exchange is from the scene where Marty McFly schemes to stage a fight with George McFly so his future father can win the heart of his future mother and restore the family’s rightful destiny.

Let’s travel back in time a bit and look at Congress’ attempts to stop the so-called Cross-Border Trucking Demonstration Project, which allows certified Mexican and U.S. trucks access to both respective countries’ freight markets. Four months into the cross-border program, which started Sept. 6, 2007, Congress passed an amendment to the 2008 omnibus spending bill (signed by President Bush) apparently cutting off the program’s funding, right? Well, that’s not what happened, because the language in the amendment stated federal funds could not be used to establish a cross-border trucking program.

Was the Bush administration flaunting the law by continuing to operate the program, as critics of the demonstration project screamed? U.S. Department of Transportation officials said no. They literally interpreted the amendment to only apply to a new pilot program and not the continuation of an existing program.

Sounds like open defiance. But why use the word establish? The word has been the catalyst of decades of debate on religion and the First Amendment. Why not make it clearer, saying the current program must end immediately or by a certain date, leaving no doubt to the lawmakers’ intent?

You’d think with all the great minds in Washington, D.C., someone would have caught the suspicious wording. Maybe everyone was too busy holding press conferences and posturing to worry about small details.

Move forward a few months to the latest efforts to end the cross-border program. Opponents from both the U.S. House and Senate have recently drawn up legislation that contains specific language to kill the program.

In early July, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) introduced an amendment that bars using government funds to “establish, implement, continue, promote, or in any way permit a cross-border motor carrier demonstration program.”

A couple weeks later, a unanimous bipartisan House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee vote approved H.R. 6630, which orders the DOT to terminate the cross-border program.

If passed into law, the bill would restrict the DOT from allowing any Mexico-based carriers to operate beyond the commercial zone after Sept. 6.

The following day, DOT officials announced the cross-border program would be extended two more years. They said all the past controversy has limited participation because of the uncertainty of the project’s longevity.

Evaluating the past record of those “passionately” trying to stop the program, one must consider the timing of both the House and Senate. By waiting until just before the August recess, the efforts appear just as lackadaisical as the language controversy last December.

It seems if Congress really wanted to end the program on Sept. 6, it would have gotten an earlier start. The entire fa

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