Is the Democratic Blockade of Trade Really Over?

Anthony B. Kim /

This time about three years ago, a California Democrat exercised legislative power to do something unprecedented in America’s international trade policymaking.

Effectively ending more than five decades of bipartisan consensus on trade policy, on April 10, 2008, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her like-minded colleagues unilaterally and irresponsibly amended House rules to circumvent the 90-day timetable for taking up the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that President Bush had submitted to Congress—thereby dooming it.

The Colombia trade accord was negotiated under presidential trade promotion authority (TPA), which clearly and specifically covered votes on trade agreements. The law forbade amendments to trade pacts and required that both the House and Senate act on the agreement within 90 days after the President submitted the pact to Congress. The spirit of this trade rule had never before been violated, and the House and Senate had on many occasions responsibly and dutifully held straight yes-or-no votes on trade pacts.

AFL-CIO then-President John Sweeney quickly praised Pelosi’s unprecedented move, saying, “We applaud her for taking decisive action to reassert congressional authority over trade.”

Fast forward to April 2011. Two leading Democratic Senators, Max Baucus (MT) and John Kerry (MA), now assert in their recent op-ed that “The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is not a partisan political issue.” They add, “Let’s be clear: Trade is critical to American innovation and economic growth. It can expand opportunity for workers and entrepreneurs, both at home and abroad.”

Where were they three years ago?!  All the same, it is exciting to see two prominent Democrats finally discovering the importance of trade. Let’s hope their colleagues join them in supporting the principles of free trade and the Colombia trade pact without further delay.