Bush to circumvent Congress on Colombia FTA?
Just before the break, Inside U.S. Trade reported that the Bush administration is internally debating whether to submit the Colombia FTA to Congress without the consent of the Democratic leadership. Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.), who is a likely candidate to be the GOP's top rep on Ways and Means once Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.) retires this year, said the prospect "is continually being debated at the White House.”
However, Herger added that submitting the FTA to Congress in such a manner is a “last option.” It is “obviously our first choice” to make the case for the FTA and generate adequate Democratic support for the agreement to have the leadership back the submission of the implementing bill, he said.
Under fast-track rules, Congress is obligated to consider fast-track trade bills in a fixed time frame once they are formally submitted, regardless of the leadership’s position on the bills. However, no administration has yet presented a fast-track trade bill without close consultation with the leadership.
Separately, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), one of the "CAFTA 15" Dems who voted for the NAFTA expansion to Central America said he will try to get some labor groups to take a “neutral” position on the Colombia FTA. And...
[Rep. Sander] Levin said that if the Administration tries to send the final implementing legislation for the Colombia FTA to Congress without a green light from House Democratic leadership, it would be “very negative” and counterproductive.
Martin Vaughan in Congress Daily had more on this possibility.
lobbyists and administration officials have discussed the option of just sending the Colombia deal up and forcing Democrats to vote on it, if congressional leaders won't take it up willingly. But Democratic aides and opponents of the deal said House leaders might also hold a secret trump card, an "emergency brake" that could short-circuit the fast-track process.
In the event that the White House sent the agreement up, House Speaker Pelosi could write a rule that would make a vote on the agreement subject to the call of the chair. Even though the trade negotiating authority has tools to prevent an agreement from being bottled up in committee, the speaker could, through such a rule change, delay a House floor vote indefinitely. But Democratic aides downplayed that scenario, saying it is unlikely that the Bush administration would risk being repudiated on the Colombia deal by sending it up without the acceptance of Democratic congressional leaders.
If Pelosi wanted, she could face down Bush if he tried to pull this stunt. Normally Fast Track requires a House vote on final passage a maximum of 60 days after the president introduces implementing legislation, with the Senate having 30 additional days to vote. This feature of Fast Track thus forces final action at the latest 90 days after implementing legislation is dropped. However, the 2002 Trade Promotion Authority 2105(c) makes clear that this requirement, as well as Fast Track’s ban on amendments and 20-hour limit on debate,
"are enacted by the Congress—(1) as an exercise of the rulemaking power of the House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively, and as such are deemed a part of the rules of each House, respectively, and such procedures supersede other rules only to the extent that they are inconsistent with such other rules; and
(2) with the full recognition of the constitutional right of either House to change the rules (so far as relating to the procedures of that House) at any time, in the same manner, and to the same extent as any other rule of that House."
A Congressional Research Service memo makes this even clearer:
Although this [Fast Track] statute is permanent law, it has been enacted as an exercise of the rulemaking power of either House and can be changed by either House, with respect to its own procedure, at any time, in the same manner and to the same extent as any other rule of that House.
So, will Bush attempt to use Fast Track to slip the Colombia FTA past Congress? If he does, will the Dem leadership block the move by changing the rule on Fast Track? Or will the Dems fold their opposition on this NAFTA expansion before the show-down happens? Corporations are celebrating Democrats' caving in on Peru as creating momentum for Colombia FTA, after all. Stay tuned.