The issue was raised by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairman of the subcommittee, for the second time. Murray questioned LaHood about the same issue in March, when he said, "We are very near a proposal."
"Back in March, I urged you and the administration to move quickly to craft a plan to resume cross-border trucking with Mexico in a way that would address the safety concerns raised during the pilot and end the tariffs imposed by the Mexican government," Murray said during Thursday's hearing.
Murray wanted to make sure the proposal was really near this time around, interrupting LaHood with, "Sooner than soon?" He responded saying, "It is closer than soon."
Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the U.S.-Mexico border was supposed to have been opened to border-state traffic in 1995 and to long-distance traffic in 2000. The opening was stalled until 2007, in part by difficult negotiations with Mexico, but mainly by the legislative and legal tactics of U.S. labor, owner-operator and citizen advocacy groups who fear loss of U.S. jobs to Mexican drivers and argue that Mexican trucks will not be safe. After Congress cut off a cross-border trucking pilot program over a year ago by prohibiting funding for such a program, the Mexican government slapped $2.4 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods.
Murray pointed out that she spoke to the Mexican ambassador earlier this week and urged him to end the tariffs that are hurting farmers and families in Washington state. Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan told Murray that Mexican President Felipe Calderon plans on bringing this issue up during his upcoming visit to Washington, D.C.
In his response during Thursday's hearing, LaHood echoed Murray's concerns over the cross-border issue and updated the subcommittee on the progress:
"President Obama's administration's intention is to restart this program. It's a part of NAFTA. It needs to be restarted. We believe if it is restarted, that these tariffs will be lifted, which we know have had a devastating effect, not only on the state of Washington, but on many other states across the country. We're very close to briefing you and other Senators on the proposal."