Washington The Senate ignored a White House veto threat and voted Thursday to back tougher safety standards than President Bush wants for Mexican trucks entering the United States.
The bipartisan 70-30 vote blocked a Republican filibuster procedural delays aimed at forcing a weakening of the standards included in a transportation spending bill.
Supporters of the standards said the vote signaled that they could muster the 67 votes needed to override any veto by Bush. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said he hoped to complete the legislation by week's end.
The vote was the latest rumble in the still-simmering fight over the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement, which was aimed at opening up trade among the United States, Mexico and Canada. As when former President Clinton helped push that treaty through Congress, Thursday's vote pitted the Teamsters union and highway safety advocates against the trucking industry and big business, and their lobbyists hovered outside the Senate chamber during the vote.
The Teamsters began airing radio ads in the Washington area this week asking listeners to "tell President Bush: Slow down, keep our highways safe."
Bush, who has emphasized free trade and better relations with Mexico, complained that the proposed requirements would clamp tougher standards on Mexican trucks than on Canadian vehicles entering the United States.
He urged senators to reject the standards, which include regular U.S. inspections of Mexican trucks and drivers, on-site audits of Mexican trucking companies, and more inspectors and scales at the 27 U.S. border stations.
"It is wrong for the Congress to discriminate against Mexican trucks," Bush said.
Advocates of the Senate standards said the real issue was safety. Statistics have shown trucks from Mexico, with more lenient safety rules than the United States, are 50 percent more likely to fail U.S. inspections than American vehicles.