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Senate OKs standards for Mexican trucks

By Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate voted Wednesday to impose safety standards on Mexican trucks coming into the United States, but Republican opponents pledged that when Congress returns in the fall they would put up roadblocks to the legislation President Bush has vowed to veto.

The safety requirements passed as part of a $60 billion transportation spending bill after it was delayed for two weeks by Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Phil Gramm, R-Texas, who said the bill is restrictive and violates the North American Free Trade Agreement, which promotes trade among the United States, Mexico and Canada.

To fulfill provisions under NAFTA, Bush wants to let Mexican trucks travel through the United States starting January 1. Current law allows the trucks through only a 20-mile zone north of the Mexican border.

Arguing that many Mexican trucks fail inspection, Sens. Patty Murray, D-Washington, and Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, crafted what they called a compromise package of safety standards for such trucks.

The items in the package include more scales and inspectors at the U.S.-Mexico border and a requirement that Mexican truckers comply with U.S. hours-of-service rules.

The measure includes $103 million for border inspection facilities, $15 million more than the president requested.

The White House and many GOP senators contend the safety standards would delay the border opening by two years and unfairly attack Mexico at a time when the United States is trying to embrace the country.

The House of Representatives has passed even tougher legislation, denying Bush the funding he wanted for the border inspection stations and banning Mexican trucks from going beyond the 20-mile border zone.

"This has been a long and arduous process, but we've done the right thing today," said Murray. "I'm pleased we've moved this out of the Senate without compromising one iota on safety on the Mexican trucks provision."

McCain held out hope that Murray would decide to negotiate over the summer congressional recess "to get this issue resolved."

"If necessary, we will continue [to delay] through finality, because we really are concerned about the language on an appropriations bill affecting a treaty by three nations," said McCain.

Mexican President Vincente Fox will be in Washington the first week of September when Congress returns to work. A senior GOP Senate aide said Republicans hope he will help put pressure on Democrats to compromise on the safety requirements.






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