Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on the House floor today in support of a new rule that suspends the requirement that the Colombia Free Trade Agreement be considered within 60 legislative days in the House - giving Congress the prerogative in scheduling a vote. The rule passed by a vote of 224 to 195. Below are the Speaker's remarks:
“Mr. Speaker, the reason we are here today is one I wish could have been avoided. Nonetheless, I think it is important to put it in context because I have heard our colleagues talk about the merits of the bill as well as the precedent on rules. I think it is important to know what brought us here today.
“On Monday, I received a call from the President of the United States, after months of our going back and forth with members of the cabinet and the rest about when and if they would send up the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The President informed me that he would be sending the bill over the next day.
“I recommended against it. I said, ‘Mr. President, you shouldn't send it for two reasons. If you send it and we take it up, it will lose. Now you think it is very important to pass a Colombia Free Trade Agreement, and in the Congress, we have people who share your view. And we have others who share your view that we should pass it as soon as we address the concerns of America's working people. However, we also have others who will never be for it. But let's talk about what the possibilities are for passing it, and those possibilities are greatly diminished if you send that bill to the Congress under these circumstances.'
“I informed the President that sending the Colombia Free Trade Agreement would be a breach of protocol. A successful trade agenda depends on joint partnership between the Congress and the Administration, as was the case recently in the Peru Free Trade Agreement. Had the Administration followed the established protocol of congressional consultation relating to the submission of any free trade agreement, we would not have to take this action today with the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
“By his actions on Tuesday, the President abandoned the traditions of consultation that have governed past agreements. In fact, the action the House takes today is more in keeping with the spirit of the rules than the White House's move to force a vote.
“But, as I said, just from a practical standpoint, Mr. President, you simply don't have the votes. And if we are to try to arrive at a place where the concerns of the American people are addressed, we need more time to do that.
“I also said what I have said many times to the President. If we are going to be successful in passing a trade agreement, we have to first tell the Americans people that we have a positive economic agenda that addresses their aspirations and addresses their concerns about their economic security.
“This bill has been around for a while, and matters have only gotten worse in our economy. The former Chair of the Federal Reserve has said we're in the throes of a recession. The current Chair of the Federal Reserve testified to Congress last week that there's a possible recession.
“The joblessness numbers of last week, again pointed to a steeper downturn in our economy.
“As I said to the President, the fact is many people in America are now concerned about their jobs. They're concerned about losing their homes. Although most people will not lose their homes, most people are concerned about losing their living standard.
“When the cost of groceries, gasoline, health care, 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 these concerns, and is compatible with the needs of America's working families. That is, I think, the only fair thing to do.
“The President ignored those concerns and sent the bill over. I pledge to this body, as Speaker of the House, that at the appropriate time, if many of these concerns are addressed in terms of America's working families, that we can take up legislation for such a trade agreement.
“Some have concerns about the content of the agreement. Others have concerns about the treatment of labor organizers in Colombia--a concern admitted to by the Administration and the Colombian Government. There are differences of opinion as to how this is changing, but let's see how we can work together to make that change.
“The important point here is, whether it's the substance of the bill, or whether it's the conditions in Colombia, they are to be, obviously, major considerations. But what we're saying to the President is that we can't do much about some of these things. We certainly can address the provisions in the bill, but I'm not here to talk about that now.
“What we can do something about--what we haven't done enough about--is to send a positive economic agenda forth. And these are not difficult. Most of what we're talking to the President about are part of what has passed this Congress in mostly an overwhelming bipartisan way.
“Whether we're talking about rebuilding the infrastructure of America, or whether we're talking about investments in an innovation agenda, our commitment is to competitiveness to keep America number 1, and that innovation begins in the classroom. We have to have a strong commitment to the education of our people, whether we're talking about tax credits for our energy bill, which we passed here and would immediately create jobs. If we don't make these investments, our projects will have to discontinue. But many more are ready. The projects are in the pipeline.
“There is a way to create good-paying jobs right here in America. We've passed the legislation. The vehicles are there for us to do it. And at the same time, we have to address the concerns of those who have lost their jobs, whether it's unemployment insurance, summer jobs program for their children, or other initiatives.
“So this is nothing new. In fact, the whole idea that we were going into recession is nothing new to most families across America. It took a while for the President and his Administration to accept that fact. When they did, we could talk. We could work together, as Mr. Boehner and I did, with the Secretary of the Treasury, to put together a stimulus package that had strong bipartisan support, and, as the President has said, has not gone into effect yet. When it does, I know it will inject demand into the economy, create jobs, and, stimulate the economy.
“But since we did that, matters have only become worse, necessitating the need for us to do more. We certainly should do more for our economy before we pass another trade agreement. It's all possible in the days that are before us.
“But instead of having the President's timetable, we have the timetable of the House of Representatives; we have a timetable for America's working families.
“Nothing that we are doing here now should be misconstrued in terms of our attitude toward Colombia. Colombia is our friend, and a neighbor in the hemisphere. The relationship between Colombia and the United States is an important one. We have concerns about workers in Colombia, and we respect the leadership of President Uribe. And as I said to the Ambassador yesterday, ‘I hope you will convey that message to the President, and when you do, I hope you will also tell him we congratulate him on his excellent representation in the United States in ambassador service here.'
“So this isn't about ending anything. It's about having a timetable that respects the concerns, the aspirations, and the challenges faced by the American people. We are the people's House. Their timetable should be our timetable.
“I urge our colleagues to support the rule.”