WASHINGTON – Congress "owes the American people" a vote this year on a free trade agreement with Colombia that House Democratic leaders have scuttled, a top White House aide said Sunday.
The House decided this past week to eliminate a rule forcing a vote on the deal within 60 legislative days of the president's submitting it to Congress. Bush sent the agreement to Capitol Hill on Tuesday. The House's decision probably kills consideration of the Colombia agreement this year, leaving it for the next administration.
"The decisions that were made by the leadership are disappointing," said President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley. "We will continue to work with the Congress. But the point is this is a good agreement. It helps American farmers, workers and businesses. It stands by Colombia.
"We have no better friend than Colombia in this hemisphere. And the president believes very strongly that Congress owes the American people a vote on this agreement this year," he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who initiated the rules change, blames Bush for submitting the agreement before a consensus was reached with congressional leaders on outstanding differences. She has said whether the agreement is dead for the year "depends on the good faith" of negotiations between Democrats and the White House.
In explaining their opposition, Democrats have cited the continued violence against organized labor in Colombia and differences with the administration over how to extend a program that helps American workers displaced by foreign competition.
The U.S. and Colombia signed the deal in November 2006. Colombia's congress approved the agreement last year.
"People forget this agreement was signed 16 months ago. And for 16 months we have been trying to work with the leadership in the Congress for a bipartisan way forward to get a vote on that agreement," Hadley said.
Hadley spoke on "Fox News Sunday."