- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

President Bush yesterday slammed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her actions last week that torpedoed a vote on the Colombia free trade agreement, using a rule change to take it off this year’s congressional calendar.

“That bill is dead unless the speaker schedules a vote,” Mr. Bush said, showing obvious irritation 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,” he said.

Mrs. Pelosi hit back in an afternoon statement to reporters that “the president’s failed economic plan has stiffed the American people.”

Mrs. Pelosi has been heavily criticized for her decision to push through a vote last week that removed 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 speaker’s office yesterday announced that Mrs. Pelosi would conduct a “media availability” to respond to Mr. Bush’s comments, but after reading a statement, Mrs. Pelosi retreated from the press without taking questions.

In her statement, Mrs. Pelosi reiterated that she is blocking the Colombia trade vote to obtain “leverage” in negotiations over further government action to spur the economy.

In particular, Democrats want to pass more economic stimulus legislation to supplement the $157 billion deal that was passed in February.

Mr. Bush opposes more action, and has pleaded with Democrats to allow the first stimulus to take effect. Checks of between $300 and $1,500 will go out to taxpayers next month, and Mr. Bush said yesterday that the money will be “an important part of making sure this economy begins to recover.”

Mrs. Pelosi was unmoved.

“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 America’s working families first,” said Mrs. Pelosi, who nonetheless said she had sent “good wishes” to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Democrats said last week that 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 it had held meetings with key Democrats for months and was 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 yesterday that Mr. Bush and Mrs. Pelosi had not spoken since the president met with congressional leaders at the White House on Wednesday.

Some have questioned whether Mrs. Pelosi’s tough stance on the trade pact could backfire for congressional Democrats as they seek support from Republicans and the administration to expand the government’s Trade Adjustment Program (TAA), a program that helps those who have lost jobs as a result of free trade.

Mrs. Perino said that the White House is not willing to negotiate on TAA until Mrs. Pelosi schedules a vote on the Colombia agreement.

Sean Lengell contributed to this report.

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