- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

President Bush today castigated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her actions last week that torpedoed a vote on the Colombia free trade agreement, taking it off this year”s congressional calendar using a rule change.

That bill is dead unless the speaker schedules a vote, Mr. Bush said, after meeting at the White House with members of his Cabinet. There is big disappointment around this table about the action the speaker took on the Colombia free trade agreement.

The president said Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, took an unprecedented step to change the rules and deny a vote this year.

It’s not in our country’s interest that we stiff an ally like Colombia, and that we don’t encourage our goods and services to be sold overseas.

Mr. Bush, a day before the tax filing deadline, also said that checks of between $300 and $1,500 that will go out to taxpayers next month as part of an $157 billion economic stimulus plan will be an important part of making sure this economy begins to recover.

Mrs. Pelosi, who has been heavily criticized for her decision on the Colombia trade vote, responded this afternoon to the president’s comments.

The speaker reiterated that she is blocking the vote to obtain leverage in negotiations over further government action to spur the economy.

“We believe it is possible to bring the Colombia free trade agreement to the floor under the proper circumstance. But first, we need to address the worsening economy in our country,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

“We are putting the concerns of Americas working families first,” said Mrs. Pelosi, who nonetheless said she had sent “good wishes” to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Mrs. Pelosi last week pushed through a rules change to remove the 60-day vote requirement on the trade pact, after Mr. Bush sent the FTA to Congress earlier in the week under so-called fast-track authority. The rules change passed 224-195, with six Republicans voting for the change and 10 Democrats opposing it.

Democrats said Mr. Bush violated the protocol of fast-tracked deals by sending an agreement to the House without the backing of the majority party.

The White House said they had held meetings with key Democrats for months and were negotiating in good faith, but needed to submit the pact before time ran out on the legislative calendar.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said today that Mr. Bush and Mrs. Pelosi had not spoken since the president met with congressional leaders at the White House last Wednesday.

Mrs. Perino said that the White House is not willing to negotiate on the key issue of trade adjustment assistance (TAA) — compensation and training for workers who lose their jobs because of free trade — until Mrs. Pelosi schedules a vote.

Until we have a date for a vote, there is no need really to have those conversations, Mrs. Perino said.

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