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Democrats Stall Colombian Trade Bill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi thwarted a key Bush administration initiative on Thursday when she led an unprecedented vote to delay action on the Colombian free trade agreement.

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with contributions from Liza Casabona
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WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi thwarted a key Bush administration initiative on Thursday when she led an unprecedented vote to delay action on the Colombian free trade agreement.

The House voted 224 to 195, largely along party lines, to eliminate a 90-day timetable for considering the trade pact with Colombia. It gives the Democrats, who hold the majorities in the House and Senate, the opportunity to put off a vote until at least after the presidential election in November.

President Bush condemned the action.

"By changing the rules for how it considers legislation to implement trade agreements, the House has severed a bond of trust between the executive branch and the Congress, and with our trading partners, that has served our nation well for decades," Bush said. "In order to negotiate trade agreements, we empower our trade representatives with the promise that Congress will consider trade agreements with a timely up-or-down vote. By breaking this bond, Democrats have undercut not just this administration, but future administrations, as well."

The Colombia agreement was negotiated under trade promotion authority legislation that requires Congress to vote within 90 days of receiving an accord from the White House without the ability to amend it. President Bush submitted the agreement to lawmakers on Tuesday, demanding its approval. The House changed the law based on a never-before-used provision that allows Congress to override the rules and remove the timetable.

"The House took action today to reassert its authority and address the economic insecurities of the American people," Pelosi (D., Calif. ) said during a news conference. "We must focus first on the issue of jobs here at home."

Pelosi framed the House vote as a power shift for Democrats. "What happened today is that the leverage came back to the American people," she said.

Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York oppose the deal. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee, supports it.

Democrats have argued that the Colombian government has failed to do enough to halt assassinations and kidnappings of trade unionists. The administration has countered that the government has sharply reduced the number of killings, put reforms in place and is an ally in the region against Venezuela, where President Hugo Chávez is a vocal opponent of the U.S. and has instituted nationalist policies.
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