WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered some hope on Wednesday for congressional passage of a free trade agreement with Colombia, but said it would fail if the White House tries to jam the deal down Congress’ throat.
“Perhaps we can get some of the trade agreements through. We did get the Peru trade agreement recently in a bipartisan way,” Pelosi said in a speech to the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, whose members were in Washington to push Congress to approve the Colombia free trade pact and two others with Panama and South Korea.
“I’ve told the White House we stand ready to discuss with them how we can proceed in bringing this legislation to the floor. I said ‘you want to do it the way you want to do it, it will lose. You just want to jam it down the throat of Congress, it will lose’,” Pelosi said.
Last week, President George W. Bush set off a fight with Pelosi over the pact when he submitted it to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote within 90 days under long-standing “fast track” rules for considering trade agreements.
The White House said it took that step only after Pelosi rebuffed months of efforts to work out a bipartisan process for bringing the pact to the floor.
Pelosi responded to Bush’s move by pushing through a rule change that removes the 90-day deadline and lets Democratic leaders decide when Congress votes on the pact.
“Before we can do too much more (on trade) we have to put forth an economic agenda that gives some sense of security to American workers and businesses across the country that somebody is looking out for them,” she told the Los Angeles group.
‘OUR LITTLE SET TO’
The Bush administration has accused Pelosi of killing the Colombia agreement and destroying a key trade policy tool used by both Democratic and Republican presidents since 1974 to get trade agreements through Congress.
“So we’re having our little set to. But it’s not a question of whether we understand globalization. It’s just a situation how we all move together in that direction ... I do think you should be hopeful about the prospects for that,” Pelosi said.
Moments later, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab told the same group if Pelosi really wanted to help the U.S. economy she would move quickly to expand U.S. exports by winning approval of the three pending free trade agreements.
“The Colombia agreement is in limbo and effectively dead unless the Speaker of the House provides a time-specific vote,” Schwab said. “How ... it is somehow in the U.S. interest to hold the Colombia agreement hostage is beyond me.”
U.S. labor groups, which are a support base for Democrats, strongly oppose the free trade agreement on the grounds that Colombia has not done enough to stop the killings of trade unionist and put their murderers in jail.
They have applauded Pelosi for delaying a vote on the pact, while business groups have urged the White House and Congress to negotiate a path forward.
While not ruling out further negotiation, Schwab accused Democrats of “moving the goal posts” by continually demanding new concessions in exchange for a vote on the pact.
The pact’s fate is “entirely in the hands of the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives,” Schwab said.
Editing by Vicki Allen