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Mary Peters: Lawbreaker

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Here's yet another reason Americans should be furious at the Bush administration: spending taxpayer dollars without constitutional authority.

Late last year, lawmakers passed the omnibus budget. President Bush signed it into law on Dec. 26. The law prohibited spending on a Transportation Department pilot program to open the borders to trucks from Mexico.

The cross-border trucking program is a bad idea that my union fought for years. We believe trucks from Mexico are dangerous, and Congress overwhelmingly agrees with us. The Senate voted 75-23 on Sept. 11 to stop the program; in May, the House passed a similar measure by a vote of 411-3.

The ink was barely dry on the new law when Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced she would ignore it. She announced that trucks from Mexico would continue to roll past taxpayer-funded inspectors at taxpayer-funded inspection stations.

The Teamsters don't think Mary Peters should get away with such blatant lawlessness. That's why we launched a campaign on Thursday to remove her from office.

Transportation Department employees who take the Metro to work will already have seen "Fire Mary Peters" posters. Soon you'll see "Fire Mary Peters" bumper stickers and windshield signs in cars around town -- and in Arizona, where Mary Peters hopes to run for governor in 2010.

We are sending letters to 250,000 Teamsters who drive trucks or live in border states. We're asking them to get involved in our campaign to fire Mary Peters. Judging by the initial response, plenty of Teamsters will write to their elected representatives asking them to find Mary Peters in contempt of Congress.

In the meantime, there is a tool to stop out-of-control bureaucrats from spending taxpayer dollars they aren't allowed to spend.

It's called the Antideficiency Act. Congress passed the first version of it in 1870 after lawmakers got tired of bureaucrats burning through their yearly budget in a few months.

Today, the Antideficiency Act prohibits bureaucrats from spending public money or authorizing that spending "in excess of the amount available in the appropriation or fund."

Last year, the General Accounting Office reported 26 agency violations of the Act.

The penalties typically aren't severe. A commanding officer in the Navy was administratively disciplined after spending $19,000 on a banquet and gifts.

A National Labor Relations Board employee had to receive counseling after signing contracts for copier paper that weren't contingent on the availability of funds. Soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq had to give back have their re-enlistment bonuses because they violated the Act.

But the Antideficiency Act does include stiff penalties that Congress can use to exercise its constitutional authority over the public purse - including two years in prison and fines up to $5,000.

Why would a Cabinet secretary risk fines and imprisonment? Peters' argument is that it isn't clear Congress authorized zero dollars to keep the border open to Mexican trucks.

But the September 11, 2007 Senate debate about the funding ban shows the intent of Congress was crystal clear.

North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan told his fellow senators that he was sponsoring the bill "to stop the Bush Administration's pilot program that now allows Mexican trucks to haul freight throughout the United States."

I'm not suggesting Mary Peters be sent to prison for two years for what appears to be a clear violation of the Antideficiency Act.

I am suggesting she be fired for it.