During today’s Senate debate over the Transportation Appropriation bill, Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) accused Democrats of an “anti-Hispanic attitude” as the fight intensified over proposed safety standards for Mexican trucks entering the U.S.

“It bothers me that there's an anti-Mexican, anti-Hispanic, anti-NAFTA attitude among Democrats that says, ‘We really don't want to allow Mexican trucks to come into this country,’” Lott said in a written statement.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) asked Lott to back up his statement, and said supporters of the stronger requirements merely want to ensure that Mexican trucks are held to high safety standards.

Lott said efforts to impose restrictions on Mexican trucks that would be tougher than requirements for Canadian trucks were a double standard. President George W. Bush said he wants the border opened for full access to Mexican trucks January 1, with more lenient regulations.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) wants provisions put in the bill that would require audits of Mexican trucking companies and the placement of new inspectors and scales at the 27 border crossings before Mexican trucks could drive throughout the U.S. Although NAFTA agreements say the trucks are to be granted access throughout the U.S., Mexican trucks are now limited to a commercial zone that extends 20 miles north of the border.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he will support President Bush's request for less stringent standards and threatened a filibuster unless a compromise was worked out. Such a delay would also halt Daschle’s chances to push four additional bills through the Senate before its August recess.

Reflecting the President's emphasis on improving U.S.-Mexico relations, the Bush Administration issued rules in May governing the circumstances under which Mexican trucks would be allowed onto U.S. roads.

The Transportation Department proposed that Mexican trucking companies file paperwork attesting to the vehicles' safety record before they enter the country. The Bush Administration provided money to hire an additional 80 inspectors, but that money was struck from the spending bill yesterday on technical grounds.