WASHINGTON – President Bush and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe renewed their push on Saturday for Congress to approve a free-trade deal before lawmakers leave town to campaign for re-election.
Bush said his administration negotiated a free-trade agreement with Colombia back in 2006.
"We can't get a vote out of Congress," he lamented, standing alongside Uribe in the Rose Garden.
Congressional Democrats say they are delaying votes on trade deals involving Colombia, Panama and South Korea until the Bush administration resolves questions about the impact on U.S. jobs and other issues. But time is running out on the legislative calendar.
Bush urged lawmakers to reconsider their opposition, but seemed resigned that it might not happen on his watch. Bush called Uribe an "honest man" who has responded to U.S. concerns about crime in Colombia and has been successful in reducing homicides, kidnappings and terrorist attacks.
Uribe said a free trade agreement would help increase U.S. investment in Colombia and provide jobs for people as an alternative to engaging in terrorism, illegal drug-trafficking and violence.
"If we have investment, we have an opportunity for our people to find high-quality jobs," he said.
In recent months, Bush has tried new ways to bolster his free-trade agenda. In May, a concrete mixer, crates of cauliflower, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and chunks of cheese were displayed on the White House lawn as examples of a lopsided tariff structure the U.S. has with those three countries.
A White House event in July was billed as a celebration of the day in 1810 when Colombia declared its independence from Spain, but the main message was trade.
Union leaders are not sold on the plan.
On Friday, the Teamsters, which represents 1.4 million workers, protested Uribe's visit, saying he was trying to promote a trade deal that threatens American jobs. The Teamsters and members of other unions and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch held signs and passed out fliers in front of the National Press Building.
With little hope the Colombian deal will be approved before Congress recesses for the November elections, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said that if there is a lame-duck session after the elections, lawmakers could ratify the agreement then.
"In light of recent divisive statements and rash actions by some Latin American leaders, ratification of the agreement would also send a strong signal to the region that the United States stands by its friends," said Lugar, top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, expelled the U.S. ambassador this month, accusing the diplomat of conspiring to oust him. Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, who claims the U.S. was behind a failed 2002 coup against him, quickly followed suit. "That's enough ... from you, Yankees," Chavez said, using a barnyard expletive.