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House Approves Stopping the Clock on Colombia Free-Trade Deal

Updated 5:44 p.m.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) scored a major victory Thursday by ramming a rules change through the House that could indefinitely delay consideration of the Colombia free-trade agreement.

The aggressive procedural move dealt a blow to the White House and left House Republicans helpless to do much but watch. The rules change passed on a largely party-line vote, 224 to 195, with one lawmaker voting present.

Pelosi engineered the maneuver after President Bush sent the trade pact to Congress on Monday without consent from Democratic leaders, a decision that she said “abandoned traditions of consultation” that have governed past agreements.

“I had no choice but to say, ‘That violates our protocols,’” she told reporters after Thursday’s vote. “All the leverage was with the White House before, and now we can talk.”

Still, noted Pelosi, “I didn’t want to do it this way.”

Republicans appeared blindsided by the maneuver, and frustated by being on the other side of heavy-handed procedural tactics now that they are in the minority. They said the move would effectively kill the trade pact.

“Anybody that thinks that, ‘Well, we’re just going to push this off for a couple of months,’ that is nonsense,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). “This vote today is a vote to kill the Colombia free-trade agreement.”

But Pelosi denied that was her intent, and said she hoped lawmakers will “come to terms” this year and take it up “under the usual protocols.”

After limited debate and with no room for amendments, lawmakers easily pushed through the resolution to suspend the 90-day timeframe for taking up the Colombia agreement under special “fast-track” trade authority.

“It would appear” that there are no tools available to Republicans to stop the Democratic move, said GOP Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.) before the vote, describing today’s events as “the tyranny of the majority.”

One GOP leadership aide conceded that the party’s only real recourse was to complain that this is potentially the first trade agreement killed by Congress since 1974.

But House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said she was “proud, frankly” that Congress asserted its ability to schedule floor matters, a role that has been “slipping away from us for 12 years … and going to the executive branch. That has to stop.”

Ten Democrats broke with Pelosi and oposed the rule, nine of whom are members of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition: Reps. Melissa Bean (Ill.), Dan Boren (Okla.), Allen Boyd (Fla.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Bud Cramer (Ala.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Baron Hill (Ind.), Nick Lampson (Texas), Tim Mahoney (Fla.) and Jim Matheson (Utah).

Six Republicans voted with Democrats: Reps. Robert Aderholt (Ala.), Virgil Goode (Va.), Robin Hayes (N.C.), Walter Jones Jr. (N.C.), Ron Paul (Texas) and Mike Rogers (Ala.).

Typically, the White House and Congress reach an agreement on the components of a trade deal before it gets transmitted to Congress. Once Congress receives a trade agreement, it typically has 90 days to take it up and a hold a straight up-or-down vote on it.

But Democrats had pushed for more negotiations because of human rights concerns in Colombia. They also want renewal of a separate bill that provides benefits to workers displaced because of overseas job losses.

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