It's the understatement of the year to observe that there's not much on which President Bush and Congressional Democrats have agreed. Just about the only significant legislation so far was the immigration bill. ('Nuff said.)
The other faint area of hope was trade, where Democratic leaders got surprising concessions from the President, and actually came up with something that could be called a bipartisan victory. It was the one area they were going to be able to point to when voters ask 'where did you set aside partisan differences and work together,' and 'what do you have to show for this Congress?'
Well, it looks like they don't have that anymore:
In a joint statement with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), Pelosi indicated trade deals negotiated with Peru and Panama will not be taken up until autumn at the soonest, even though the administration and business groups have clamored for Peru to be approved this summer.
In addition, the statement said Peru and Panama would have to change their domestic laws to reflect a May deal between the administration and House Democrats before Congress would further consider the two deals. That agreement has come under intense criticism from some Democrats representing districts with manufacturing interests.
The statement also said Rangel planned to lead a congressional delegation to Peru and Panama in August. “We have every expectation that, in the coming weeks, both the Peruvian Parliament and U.S. Congress will do whatever it takes to make certain that the agreement is implemented fully,” it said.
The statement said a renewal of “fast track,” set to expire Saturday, is not in the cards. “Our legislative priorities do not include the renewal of fast-track authority,” the statement said. Fast track makes it easier to negotiate trade deals because agreements signed under it cannot be amended by Congress.
In May, the administration reached an agreement with Congressional Democrats that would increase attention to the environment and labor rights in all future trade agreements:
Democrats reached a broad agreement with the Bush administration last month that worker rights and the environment will be core parts of future free trade agreements. That improved prospects for congressional action on several of the accords, although there are still sticking points, such as violence against labor leaders in Colombia and South Korea's restrictions on U.S. auto imports.
You might have thought that such an agreement would help ensure renewal of Trade Promotion Authority (Fast Track) -- or at least guarantee prompt votes on these deals. You'd be wrong.
Even more disappointing, Congress will drag its feet on other trade agreements that have already been negotiated. This is an embarrassment to our trading partners and allies, and it's an abrogation of their responsibility to at least vote on these accords. It also (once again) puts the lie to their criticisms of Bush for alienating our allies. After all, you don't get much more 'key' than South Korea.
This action shows that the Congressional leadership isn't interested in promoting good relations with our allies, or with the President. And they'd rather kowtow to labor than pass agreements that will help enhance economic growth and competitiveness.