- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

Congress “owes the American people” a vote this year on a free-trade agreement with Colombia that House Democratic leaders have scuttled, a top White House aide said yesterday.

The House decided last week to eliminate a rule forcing a vote on the deal within 60 legislative days of the president’s submitting it to Congress. President Bush sent the agreement to Capitol Hill on Tuesday. The House’s decision probably kills consideration of the Colombia agreement this year, leaving it for the next administration.

“The decisions that were made by the leadership are disappointing,” said Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley. “We will continue to work with the Congress, but the point is this is a good agreement. It helps American farmers, workers and businesses. It stands by Colombia.

“We have no better friend than Colombia in this hemisphere. And the president believes very strongly that Congress owes the American people a vote on this agreement this year,” he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who initiated the rules change, blames Mr. Bush for submitting the agreement before a consensus was reached with congressional leaders on outstanding differences. She has said whether the agreement is dead for the year “depends on the good faith” of negotiations between Democrats and the White House.

“Until we can address the concerns of the American people, in this downturn in the economy, which some call a recession, and we can talk to you about how this trade bill fits into that picture, then, again, we need more time to do that,” Mrs. Pelosi said in an interview taped Friday and broadcast yesterday.

In explaining their opposition, Democrats have cited the continued violence against organized labor in Colombia and differences with the administration over how to extend a program that helps American workers displaced by foreign competition.

The United States and Colombia signed the deal in November 2006. Colombia’s legislature approved the agreement last year.

“People forget this agreement was signed 16 months ago. And for 16 months, we have been trying to work with the leadership in the Congress for a bipartisan way forward to get a vote,” Mr. Hadley said.

Mrs. Pelosi denied that Democrats are seeking to block the deal. She said they wanted “to create a timetable for consideration of the bill that was sensitive to the concerns of America’s working families.”

“And I called the ambassador from Colombia the day that we announced we were doing this and told her … we appreciate the friendship between our two countries; we send our respects to the president of Colombia; and that it should not be viewed as it is being characterized by the White House.”

Mr. Hadley spoke on “Fox News Sunday.” Mrs. Pelosi appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

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