House Rules Committee Rams Through Fast-Track Changes for Colombia; Resolution Expected to Hit Floor Thursday

Posted April 9, 2008 at 4:34pm

Partisan fireworks flew Wednesday afternoon in a House Rules Committee hearing as Democrats pushed through a resolution to suspend the 90-day timeline for taking action on the Colombia free-trade agreement.

The resolution, which passed the committee on a party-line vote, will not be subject to amendments when it comes up on the floor tomorrow and will allow for only an hour of debate, said House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.).

The only option available to Republicans is to temporarily drag out debate, but Slaughter said she didn’t think that GOP leaders “have even been whipping on this yet” since the proposed resolution came up so fast.

In addition, some Republicans are likely to vote for the resolution, while some Democrats will likely vote against it, she said.

In an unprecedented move, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Wednesday that she would seek a rules change allowing her to stop the clock on special parameters for considering trade measures known as “fast-track.”

Pelosi said the move was in response to President Bush flouting tradition and sending the trade pact to the Hill without the consent of Congressional leaders.

The proposed rules change “is a direct response to the arrogance of this administration,” said House Rules Member Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

In an effort to paint the move as fairly common, Democrats cited two other instances when the House has modified “fast-track” procedures: during the 110th Congress with the Peru agreement and during the 109th Congress with the Dominican Republic trade pact.

“We’re simply removing all of the timeline sections,” said Slaughter, and it is “only on the Colombia free-trade agreement,” so the changes will not affect other potential deals.

The rule change has “no effect on the Senate,” Slaughter said, adding the likelihood remains that the upper chamber “will pass what we send over.”

House Rules Committee ranking Member David Dreier (R-Calif.) called the maneuver “unprecedented” because previous rules changes affecting trade agreements did not “basically ignore the clock.”

“This has never ever been done before in the 34-year history” of fast-track rules, he said. It is “absolutely outrageous” to suggest that the White House has not been working with Democratic leaders on a final trade agreement.

Dreier said many Democrats have told him privately that they have concerns with delaying action on the trade pact.

McGovern countered that by saying that many Republicans have told him privately that they have concerns with passing the deal in its current state.