Pelosi to Stop the Clock on Colombia Trade Deal

Posted April 9, 2008 at 11:24am

Updated 2:12 p.m.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday will seek to change House rules to circumvent the 90-day timetable for taking up the Colombia free-trade agreement.

The highly unusual move, made after a meeting of the Democratic Caucus, effectively allows Democrats to punt on the controversial trade pact until after the November elections.

“We will choose tomorrow to remove the timeline from the consideration of the Colombia free-trade agreement,” Pelosi told reporters Wednesday.

The Speaker said the rules change doesn’t necessarily mean a vote on the pact will be postponed until after November, explaining that its progress “depends on the good faith” of lawmakers involved in negotiations.

Pelosi noted that the move is “in keeping with the rules,” but it could be unprecedented to stop the clock on trade agreements under special procedures known as “fast track” that give Congress 90 days to consider a deal once the president transmits it.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino responded to the news by calling Pelosi’s maneuver an “awful precedent” and said the president would take it up in his meeting with Congressional leaders 3 p.m. Wednesday.

“Today’s announcement shows that any sense of good faith in our process of negotiating trade has evaporated,” Perino said.

“We think it’s a terrible thing for this administration, but it’s also terrible for all future administrations, both Republicans and Democrats, because countries will not be able to have faith in our word when we’re negotiating trade deals.”

Perino noted that the administration has held 400 consultations with Members on the pact, and “shuttled” lawmakers to Colombia to see the progress there firsthand.

“We went over and beyond the requirements of trade promotion authority to try to get this done,” she said.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) explained that it will take a simple majority to make the rules change.

“We’re taking what’s implicit and making it explicit. The Speaker calls the bill,” said Emanuel, meaning that Pelosi has the authority to make the move.

Bush sparked the hostile reaction from Pelosi when he opted to send the trade agreement to the Hill on Monday despite the Speaker’s recommendation against it.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said such a move “would violate the spirit of the law.”

“Let me be clearer: It would be cheating. It would break a promise Democratic leaders made to the American people. Worse, such an action would wreak havoc on our international trade commitments and any future attempts to negotiate any agreement with a foreign nation.”

“What nation would conclude a treaty with the United States knowing that Congress can change the rules of the game after it is negotiated?” Boehner asked.