Blame Bush as Well as Pelosi for Trade Fiasco

Washington Matters

Blame Bush as Well as Pelosi for Trade Fiasco

The lead editorial in today's Washington Post takes a whack at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for gutting the 90-day limit for congressional approval of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The move ends any hope of the pact winning approval during the dwindling months of President Bush's term.


From a diplomatic and national security standpoint, the move is indefensible.  


Still, I do think Bush bears more of the blame for the Colombia FTA's apparent demise than the Post editorial indicates. Pelosi and the Democrats aren't just responding to Bush's sending the Colombia FTA to the Hill without their approval. It's the culmination of nearly six years in which the administration has frozen the Democrats out of the trade negotiation process at every opportunity. Democratic leaders in both houses told Bush repeatedly what they needed from him in order to be able to consider this bill -- a compromise that would allow some expansion of Trade Adjustment Assistance. Coincidentally, that proposal is similar to one Bush embraced early in his first term when he first won the right negotiate trade agreements without giving Congress the ability to change them. This time, Bush refused to budge.


It's unfortunate for both the United States and Colombia that Democrats have chosen this as the issue over which to finally stand up to Bush. But given the number of times Bush has taken a "my way or the highway" approach with congressional Democrats, on issues ranging from Iraq to wiretapping to expanding a health insurance program for kids, such a showdown was inevitable.


The question remains whether the deal might be salvaged by the next president. Congress is likely to have an even larger Democratic majority next year than it does today. If the 111th Congress is willing to pass the Colombia pact in exchange for an enhanced TAA, the agreement could still be salvaged. It would take time, but the bruises on the relationship with Bogota would heal. But if Democrats, either in Congress or the White House, insist on renegotiating the pact in order to include tougher protections for labor, the agreement is as good as dead. In that case, the consequences both for U.S.-Colombian relations and for U.S. interests in Latin America may be much deeper and longer lasting.