House Votes to Delay Colombia Trade Pact

Agreement gets the cold shoulder from Congress.
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Updated from 2:10 p.m. EDT

The House on Thursday voted to delay action on a

Colombia free trade pact

.

The House voted to kill a requirement that Congress make a decision on the controversial trade deal within 90 days, including a 60-day deadline for House action.

President Bush had urged Congress to consider passing the legislation: "The Colombia agreement is pivotal to America's national security and economic interests right now, and it is too important to be held up by politics."

Bush's proposal received an immediate chilly response on the Hill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) warned the president at a press conference that the time was not right:

"I told the president that in light of the economic uncertainty in our country... we really had to continue our conversation about addressing the economic concerns of America's working families."

The Congress normally has 90 days to act on such an agreement. However, Pelosi managed to preempt Bush by overriding the timetable, which places the bill in limbo. She hopes to get a new stimulus package in return for working on the trade agreement.

House Republican Minority Leader John Boehner had praised the legislation:

"Any vote to delay the consideration of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement would violate the spirit of the law and undermine our ability to create more American jobs. Let me be clearer: it would be cheating."

The free-trade agreement with Colombia follows an agreement that passed Congress in December. The Colombia agreement fosters free trade mostly through lower tariffs. Up to 80% of U.S. goods and services would gain immediate access to markets in Colombia free of tariffs. Tariffs on agriculture, services, technology and textiles would be phased out over 10 years.

The agreement also includes protections on a variety of fronts. U.S. investors would receive additional protection for investments in Colombia. Digital protections would be added, and the focus on intellectual property rights would intensify. Colombia would join the World Trade Organizations' Information Technology Agreement. Furthermore, new protections for labor and the environment would be created -- a key sticking point for many Democrats in prior agreements such as NAFTA.

Another potential sticking point with the Democratic-controlled Congress is Temporary Adjustment Assistance (TAA). TAA is supposed to fund programs for worker retraining but has been woefully underfunded for years. The president mentioned a possible boost to the fund; yet the proposal lacked a firm agreement. Any additional funds might be hard to find with surging budget deficits.