By  on September 13, 2007

WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a $104.6 billion spending bill Wednesday that provides funds to upgrade the nation's highways, but abandons a Bush administration pilot program that would allow long-haul Mexican trucks to operate across the U.S.

The measure passed 88 to 7 to pay expenses for the 2008 fiscal year starting Oct. 1. However, the proposal still faces hurdles: a presidential veto threat and negotiations to reconcile differences in the House and Senate versions.

The bill would provide $65.7 billion for the Department of Transportation, which is $2.57 billion more than the 2007 fiscal year and $1.24 billion above the administration's 2008 fiscal year budget request. President Bush has threatened a veto because the Senate's proposal exceeds his budget ceiling.

The Senate approved an amendment to the transportation and housing spending bill introduced by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D., N.D.) that would prohibit the use of funds to allow Mexico-based trucks to operate beyond the commercial zones in the U.S., which Bush has tried to implement for years.

Cross-border trucking between Mexico and the U.S., a stipulation in the North American Free Trade Agreement enacted in 1994, has been held up for years by legal challenges, safety concerns over substandard Mexican trucks and opposition from the Teamsters union.

The administration ordered the pilot program this year, but Congress blocked it in an Iraq War supplemental bill, pending a report by the transportation department inspector general on Sept. 6. The DOT then launched the pilot project that allows up to 100 Mexican trucking carriers, which will be phased in, to send trucks into the U.S. for a year.

"We don't want to share our highways with dangerous trucks from Mexico," Teamsters general president James Hoffa said in a statement. "Since Congress has only blocked funding for a year, the Teamsters will continue the fight."

For apparel importers, who shipped 107 million square meter equivalents in apparel and textiles valued at $5.8 billion from Mexico to the U.S. for the year ended July 31, Congressional rejection was a disappointment.

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