Colombia Trade Pact Could Land on Hill Next Week

Posted April 3, 2008 at 1:40pm

Top House Democrats are signaling that it would not be a wise move for the White House to send the Colombia free-trade agreement to Congress next week, a plan that House GOP leaders say is in the works.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday told reporters that she has “not been informed by the administration” that President Bush is planning to send up the trade pact next week and that she doesn’t know “that that will be the case.”

Either way, she said, “I don’t recommend it.”

“I don’t think the administration has the votes, but they keep talking to me like they’re going to [send it up] anyway,” House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) added on Wednesday.

Rangel said he doesn’t know whether the president wants to “take a gamble and have them lose it” on the House floor. The New York Democrat declined to say whether he would vote in favor of the pact, but said he would “hate to see this bill come up and fail.”

A battle could indeed be in the offing. House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) has indicated Bush is planning to send the agreement to Congress next week.

“We had [United States Trade Representative] Ambassador [Susan] Schwab down to talk to the whips yesterday,” he said Wednesday. He said he is part of a trade working group that has been making “a much less formal effort to include our friends on the other side who want to do this, many of whom have been to Colombia in the last five or six months.”

In fact, USTR is hosting a trip to Colombia this weekend for nine Members, including two Democrats, Reps. Bob Etheridge (N.C.) and Hank Johnson (Ga.).

Asked if he has talked to specific Democrats about pledging their support for the free-trade agreement, Blunt said he has been “talking to lots of them,” but added, “I’m not sure it is particularly helpful to them for me to begin to put that list out.”

Once a trade agreement is sent to the Hill, lawmakers have 90 legislative days to vote on it, which, according to Blunt, is about how many days are left in the legislative calendar as of next week.

“There are barely enough working days left on the scheduled calendar” to accommodate a vote on the agreement this year, he said.

The White House did not return a call for comment.

For his part, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is waiting to see what the House plans to do with the measure.

“If and when the House acts, Sen. Reid will decide how to proceed,” a Reid spokeswoman said.