Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) power play Wednesday to gut President Bush’s “fast-track” authority on the Colombia free-trade agreement and assert control over the deal’s future set off a political firestorm from Republicans but quickly united Democrats on both sides of the issue.
House Republicans expressed outrage, with Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) accusing Pelosi of “cheating” and warning of long-term repercussions against the United States in future trade negotiations.
“Any vote to delay the consideration of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement would violate the spirit of the law and undermine our ability to create more American jobs,” Boehner said. “Let me be clearer: it would be cheating. ... Worse, such an action would wreak havoc on our international trade commitments and any future attempts to negotiate any agreement with a foreign nation.”
But Pelosi made it clear that she, not the president, would be in charge of when the Colombia pact would come to the floor, and tied it to broader negotiations over stimulating the economy.
“We have come together on many bipartisan agreements on how to inject demand and vitality into our economy. We would hope that some of those initiatives would be acceptable to the president, funded and signed into law ... and only then could we consider the merits of a Colombia free trade agreement,” she said after a meeting at the White House.
Pelosi will have the House vote today on a rule change that would strip fast-track rules from a Colombia deal that would have guaranteed a vote within 60 legislative days.
The Bush administration complained vociferously in several press events and in direct calls to Democratic Members, warning of dire consequences if the agreement were to fail and complaining that Pelosi was taking an unprecedented step to thwart an up-or-down vote.
“The procedural maneuvering that we are seeing is both unprecedented and unfair, by any definition,” U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said. Schwab said that the agreement had been reached with Colombia more than 500 days ago and that the Bush administration had held hundreds of meetings with House Members seeking to address their concerns.
But the unexpected and bold action by Pelosi quickly united Democrats on both sides of the issue. Supporters of the trade agreement warned that unless it is delayed, it would fail on the House floor because of Bush’s actions.
Democrats charged that the administration never offered meaningful provisions to address labor’s concerns about violence against union members in Colombia and to address the loss of jobs in the United States.
Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) rejected the premise that overriding fast-track authority would harm the country’s ability to negotiate future trade deals. “I sure doubt it because every country that negotiates with us comes out on top,” she said. “I’m sure every country would want to get in on a deal like that. We don’t do a thing to protect our own workers.”
House Rules Committee ranking member David Dreier (R-Calif.) called the maneuver “unprecedented” because previous rules changes affecting trade agreements did not “basically ignore the clock.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.