WASHINGTON, April 15 (Reuters) - The top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday to spell out “exactly” what action she wants Congress to take before lawmakers vote on a free trade pact with Colombia.
The letter from House Republican Leader John Boehner came one day after Pelosi said it was still possible Congress could vote this year on the free trade agreement, if the White House and Congress first deal with a number of more pressing domestic economic concerns.
Last week, the Democratic-run House voted to indefinitely delay action on the pact, which is opposed by U.S. labor and human rights groups on the grounds that Colombia has not done enough to stop killings of trade unionists.
That prompted President George W. Bush on Monday to declare the pact “dead” until Pelosi schedules a vote on it.
The White House argues Colombia has already done much to reduce violence and rejecting the agreement would hurt one of the United States’ strongest allies in Latin American.
In his letter, Boehner also sought to make Pelosi responsible for the fate of the agreement.
He said her demands for action to help Americans cope with current economic woes were “both broad and vague, causing some to question whether you are simply using these demands as a pretext for blocking the trade agreement altogether.”
“I respectfully request that you detail exactly what issues you want to see action on in order to bring the Colombia Fair Trade Agreement to the House floor for a fair, straight up-or-down vote,” Boehner said in the letter asking Pelosi to respond by next Tuesday.
Meanwhile, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and human rights groups on Tuesday praised the House decision to put off a vote and said they would fight the agreement as long as Colombian trade unionists live in a climate of fear.
“We are here to emphasize one thing — no deal of any kind is acceptable while trade unionists are assassinated and threatened,” Sweeney said.
Despite Pelosi’s recent emphasis on addressing U.S. economic concerns, Sweeney said he believed Pelosi was still committed to a much further reduction in violence against Colombian labor leaders before Congress votes on the pact.
Most U.S. business groups support the agreement. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday urged the Bush administration and Congress to “redouble their efforts to find a way to secure approval of the Colombia trade agreement.” (Editing by Todd Eastham)