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Keeping Score on the Colombia Trade Pact

The House voted today to "stop the clock" on the Colombia free trade agreement, passing a rule change allowing the chamber to ignore the traditional 90-day timeframe under which Congress must vote on trade bills.

The 224-195 vote in favor of the rule change broke down mostly along party lines, with just 10 Democrats voting no and six Republicans voting yes. Such partisan unity is to be expected on a procedural vote, but this one was different -- it was "scored."

What does scoring a bill mean? A variety of lobbying groups issue congressional scorecards on the topics that interest them most. The League of Conservation Voters rates members for their votes on key environmental bills, the Family Research Council scores votes on abortion and other social issues, and so on.

In the case of today's Colombia vote, the roll call was scored -- after an encouraging nudge from Hill Republicans -- by dozens of pro-trade and pro-business groups, including heavyweights like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. That's bad news for many moderate and conservative Democrats, who had to weigh their desires to maintain a good rating from these groups against the importance of backing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on a key issue. Members are typically given a relatively free pass to vote how they want on trade bills, but on procedural votes, leaders want them to toe the line.

All 10 of the Democrats who voted against today's rule change are members of the moderate New Democrats or the conservative Blue Dogs, and many face competitive re-election races in November. Blue Dog Rep. Melissa Bean, for example, represents a GOP-leaning Illinois district and has been buffeted by both sides of the free trade debate since she was elected in 2004. Bean received an 80 percent score from the Chamber of Commerce in the second session of the 109th Congress, higher than the vast majority of Democrats. She voted no today on the Colombia rule change.

Rep. John Tanner (Tenn.), a leader of the Blue Dogs who has spoken favorably of the Colombia deal, managed to split the difference today -- he voted "present."

But plenty of moderate and conservative Democrats chose to back Pelosi, even some who might vote for the Colombia trade deal when (or if) it comes to a vote. Rep. Artur Davis (Ala.), a New Democrat who hasn't decided whether he supports the agreement, described the fight over the 90-day clock as a dispute about "congressional prerogatives" rather than the actual merits of the Colombia deal. To him and other Democrats, President Bush threw precedent out the window when he decided to submit the bill even after Pelosi had advised against it.

"I think it's an egregious error by the White House to bypass the Speaker of the House," Davis said.

For their part, Hill Republicans say that it's a ruse to label today's vote a procedural one.

"Anyone who thinks this is just going to put the [Colombia] vote off for a couple of months, that is nonsense," said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). "This is a vote to kill the bill."

No matter what happens on the Colombia deal, business groups had larger reasons to worry about today's vote. Changing fast-track procedures on this one bill could set a precedent for future trade deals, and they may have an even tougher time under a President Barack Obama or Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"We're going to re-think the whole concept of fast track in a Democratic administration," Davis said.

No wonder the business community is keeping score.

By Ben Pershing  |  April 10, 2008; 3:48 PM ET
Categories:  Agenda , House  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: After Petraeus, a Growing Divide
Next: Citizen McCain, Cont'd


"New Democrats" and "Blue Dogs" are DINOs.

We need to contest these party traitors in the primaries and get them out of office.

They're a bunch of closet Repukes.

Posted by: Tom3 | April 10, 2008 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Big business wants this Colombia deal.

The Democrats say it could cost US jobs.

Big business doesn't care about Americans. They can go screw themselves.

Posted by: Tom3 | April 10, 2008 4:29 PM | Report abuse

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Latest Results Just Posted Yesterday.
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Posted by: votenic | April 10, 2008 4:35 PM | Report abuse

These blue dogs need to be concerned about the American people that they are trying to screw over on these economy issues that are currently under review-[unemployment extensions]. These people that are being screwed by these idiots are the ones that will vote them out of office in disgrace!

Posted by: Unemployed in California | April 10, 2008 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Today's House vote regarding Columbia has little to do with trade and much to do with the House Democrats' love of socialism.

"Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats" is the answer to the question, "Who hopes to lose Columbia?" to Hugo Chavez and the Communists of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Cuba.

Posted by: Marshall Davidson | April 10, 2008 5:49 PM | Report abuse

ecuador is communists?

Posted by: mike praz | April 10, 2008 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Mrs Pelosi, with your decision support the fight of Mr Chavez and the guerillas group.

Very inteligent way to win the political power

Posted by: AMR | April 10, 2008 7:31 PM | Report abuse

Marshall Davidson:
I know-right there with you bud. Republicans love to support Oligarchies. Like what we have here in the good ole USA. You know, American tax dollars go to the super-wealthy when weapons are "needed" by the Idiot Prince to attack countries that did not attack America. Hell, Americans don't need anything, according to the GOP.

Posted by: tanaS | April 10, 2008 7:36 PM | Report abuse


mike praz said: "ecuador is communists?"

No, my friend. Marshall Davidson is uneducated.

Posted by: captainkona | April 10, 2008 9:28 PM | Report abuse

I love it when La PELOSI! makes Bush and his stooges look like the friggin' idiots they are.

Good work, Nancy. Keep foot firmly planted in Republican/DLC ass.

Posted by: captainkona | April 10, 2008 9:30 PM | Report abuse

FREE TRADE IS NOT ALWAYS FREE, and Not all trading partners are alike.

Here's an example of free trade's headaches when dealing with a not so friendly foreign power ....

Chavez making decisions on a Lousiana refinery? Rules are needed and some oversight is required.

Posted by: PacificGatePost | April 11, 2008 1:59 AM | Report abuse

I'm a lifelong Republican. I'm sending money to Melissa Bean. I respect courageous Democrats. I despise sheep.

Posted by: Mora | April 11, 2008 5:15 AM | Report abuse

As a matter of fact, yes, Ecuador's leader is a stated communist. He is systematically dismantling Ecuador's democracy and converting it into a Cuba-style state. He will not exit power willingly. He is Hugo Chavez's most promising minime.

Posted by: Vivita | April 11, 2008 5:17 AM | Report abuse

If looney toons DINO San Francisco Liberal
Extremist Madame Speaker Nancy Pelosi has
her grubby greedy little stinking fingers in the pie,then you can bet Pelosi will get
her full share of the dirty money from it
as well.

Posted by: Sandra | April 11, 2008 8:29 AM | Report abuse

It looks as if Ben needs a history lesson. Voting on a trade agreement within 90 days is "not the norm" as you wrote in this interesting blog. BTW, the last line is gratuitous at best. This vote represented what Speaker Pelosi and the Dems ran on and won on in 2006..the oversight function of Congress. This Congress won't cede their oversight function as the previous 5 Congresses have done. Any member who voted against this really should think about whether or not they understand the function of the 3 seperate branches of government. As much as business and Mr. Orange Boehner will say this was a vote "against trade" it simply wasn't. Bush tried to bully Congress and well, he was beat hence cementing his status as a lame duck president.

Posted by: Real Moral Majority | April 11, 2008 8:47 AM | Report abuse

Imports from Colombia enter the United States duty free. Exports from the U.S. to Colombia face duties of up to 35%. Doesn,t it make sense that by eliminating those duties, Colombians can afford more U.S.-made goods? More exports = more jobs.
This trade agreement contains the most stringent labor-protective and environmentally friendly provisions put into any trade agreement.
This "procedural" vote merely provides a way for Congress to avoid real debate about the future role of the U.S. in the world economy in general, and South America in particular.

Posted by: vet | April 11, 2008 9:10 AM | Report abuse

People in Colombia have also "scored the vote" they now know loyalty, commitment and being a good ally is of no consequence when dealing with the Democratic Congress.

Posted by: Robert Stewart | April 11, 2008 9:24 AM | Report abuse

big mistak, we are (colombia) your only friend in the region, from argentina to venezuela the people hate capitalism specially americans

Posted by: carlos gutierres | April 11, 2008 2:46 PM | Report abuse

The trade agreement with Colombia should it pass won't change the present status of trade between Colombia and the US. Colombia has a special trade status which (I believe) will last till the end of the year but it can be revalidated. The agreement itself would only make that status more official. So, no more jobs forked over to Colombia; that damage is done already. The problem is whether or not to support a Government under whose watch it's so dangerous to be in an opposition political party, the media or the unions.

Posted by: JSB103 | April 11, 2008 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Oh wake up people as Madame Speaker Screwup
Nancy Pelosi is beyond all doubt "The Worst
Speaker In The History Of Congress." And
the most corrupt since Pelosi uses Illegal
Aliens in her family vineyards,resort hotels and fancy restaurants,and is a fraud
just like Barack Hussein Obama,so there is
your change you can believe in alright just
more dirty political shady deals,endless BS
and liars like Pelosi and Obama ripping us
all off.

Posted by: Sherry Kay | April 11, 2008 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Just wonderful, it's not like we haven't shipped enough American jobs out of the country with nafta/gatt/wto etc, now these buzzards want to ship even more out with another Free Trade Agreement.

Yep just what this country needs during this wonderful time of recession and the dollar plummeting and tens of thousands of people losing their jobs every month over and above new jobs created.

add to that amnesty for 20 million illegals and it fairly makes my mind boggle and wonder just WHO our Representaives represent as if we really didn't know, they represent anyone with special interest bribe me money.

BOTH parties guilty.

Posted by: John C. Page III | April 11, 2008 4:17 PM | Report abuse

Well we do need trade. It's all about how we go about it. It's not black and white and there are ups and downs on both sides of this argument.

It is time for an overhaul. In that we can all agree.

Posted by: Vance McDaniel | April 14, 2008 2:43 AM | Report abuse

Sadly, a growing percentage of Americans need to take a few more Econ courses, brush up on their trade and business theory, and take a realistic look at the rest of the world. Let's try teaching our kids a bit more, so that we don't have so many idiots in the general adult population. Let's support education at least, before the economy gets even worse.

Posted by: AgreeOnThis | April 14, 2008 4:01 PM | Report abuse

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