House Stops Fast Track Rule for Colombia Free Trade Agreement

April 10, 2008
The House has just passed a rule to suspend the requirement that the Colombia Free Trade Agreement be considered within 90 legislative days by a vote of 224-195-1 -- giving Congress the prerogative in scheduling a vote. This change is necessitated by the President's partisan actions. Instead of working with Congress on the economic concerns of the American people, on Tuesday, the President took the unprecedented step of sending up the Colombia Trade deal without following established protocols of Congressional consultation. His actions were political and counter-productive. This rule would remove the fast-track timeline for the Colombia free-trade agreement -- simply returning to Congress the rightful constitutional role in scheduling consideration of measures. The Fast Track law (PL 107-210) expressly recognizes "the constitutional right of either House to change the rules (so far as relating to the procedures of that House) at any time, in the same manner, and to the same extent as any other rule of that House" and that is what the House is doing.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "The fact is, as I said to the President, many people in America now are concerned about losing their jobs, they're concerned about losing their homes -- most people won't. But most people are concerned about losing their living standard when the cost of groceries and gasoline and the cost of health care and education and other staples continues to go up and the purchasing power of the income that people have is either stagnant or going down. They have concerns about their economic security. So let's have a timetable for the American people. Let's have a timetable on our consideration of a trade bill that addresses the concerns and is compatible with the needs of America's working families. That is, I think, the only fair thing to do."

Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter: "The rule today was necessitated by the partisan and irresponsible actions of the President. Instead of working with Congress to reach agreements on this accord, he instead took the unprecedented step of sending the Colombia deal over the objection of Congressional leaders. Mr. Speaker, the American people have been promised a lot when it comes to trade. However, in a country whose economy has been devastated by ill-conceived trade deals, it can only be expected that the American people will remain wary..."

Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel: "It is really strange that the ranking member of the Rules Committee has presented us a speech this morning that is so similar that I don't remember the last time anyone in the Administration has talked about the bill. Oh Hugo Chavez, I go to sleep every night wondering what he's going to do, and Castro, my God, well we should vote for the people of Colombia and make him against -- make him a big threat in the community. I'm not saying these things shouldn't be considered, but how many people, Republican or Democrat, has the slightest idea what's in the trade bill? Why not give them an opportunity to make this decision, not based on 40 days, 50 days, or 90 days, but for us to bring up these things? And when has anyone ever heard that they didn't have a crisis in terms of peace and tranquility against terrorism and assassination in Colombia?"

Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-03): "In just the first 12 weeks of 2008, 17 trade unionists have already been assassinated. Mr. Speaker, like many of myHhouse colleagues, I have traveled to Colombia several times over the past seven years... I visited the slums of Bogota where the poor and internally displaced struggle to survive. I spent hours in meetings with human rights groups, with families whose loved ones are held in brutal captivity by the FARC... I've met with the constitutional court, religious, and labor leaders. With indigenous people and dozens of government and military officials. There is so much more to Colombia than the Administration's day and a half excursion tours..."

Rep. Lloyd Doggett: "We certainly do need a balanced and lightened trade policy, but this debate is not about trade. It's about the guiding principle of the Bush Administration -- arrogance. Arrogance that has served our country so poorly. This president personally proclaiming himself to be a uniter not a divider at the beginning, quickly transformed himself into the decider. And that lone decider has unleashed one divisive disastrous decision after another on our land. Mr. Cheney's current chief of staff, he summed up the situation very directly. We are going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop, he said. Well, today, our Speaker backed up by this House says, 'stop.'"

Rep. Peter DeFazio: "For a Republican minority, and particularly the gentleman from California, who whine day in and day out about their inability to offer amendments to the most minor of bills, I've never seen a group so eager to give up their right and the right of every member of this House to offer an amendment to this trade agreement in a rush to rubber stamp jet another -- yet another failed so-called trade agreement. "