White House Signals It Will Send Colombia Trade Pact to Hill

Posted April 4, 2008 at 5:09pm

Signaling that the White House is on the verge of submitting the Colombia free-trade agreement to Congress, top Bush administration officials late Friday sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) warning that time is running out to assure a vote on the measure this year.

If the administration sends the deal to lawmakers, it may be met with a cold shoulder. Pelosi said last week that she did not recommend such an action.

Democratic leaders have been holding out for renewal of a separate bill that would compensate workers who lose their jobs because of the globalized economy. Key Democrats want reauthorization of the “Trade Adjustment Assistance” measure before signing on to the trade deal.

But because there is still no agreement on that front, “we will need to transmit [the Colombia pact] in order to assure a vote this year, even as the TAA discussions continue,” says the letter, signed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, among others.

“We remain hopeful that discussions on TAA can be completed as Congress begins its consideration of the legislation to implement the Colombia FTA.”

“The president is committed to signing a strong bipartisan TAA bill,” the letter adds.

Administration officials have kept mum on when the president plans to send the trade pact to the Hill, despite the fact that House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) has said to anticipate it the week of April 7.

The administration is making a gamble that the political climate for the pact will improve. Once a trade agreement is sent to Congress, lawmakers have 90 legislative days to vote on it. That’s about the same amount of time left on this year’s legislative calendar, according to Blunt.

A political controversy broke out on Friday over the trade deal when it was revealed by The Wall Street Journal that Democratic strategist Mark Penn, who is a chief aide to presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), met with the Colombian ambassador early last week in support of the pact. Clinton opposes the trade deal and Penn quickly apologized for his actions.