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House Leaders Vow To Put Colombian Trade Deal On Hold

Democratic Party leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives have announced plans to indefinitely postpone action on a free trade pact the Bush administration negotiated with Colombia. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports the White House is fighting back.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says now is not the time for a vote on the Colombian free trade deal.

She says she is asking House members to change the rules for consideration of trade pacts in this particular case, and remove the requirement for action within 90 days.

Pelosi says Congress wants more time to make sure its concerns are met - particularly in the areas of worker and human rights. She also makes clear that dealing with the struggling US economy is a higher priority.

"We're first and foremost here to look out for the concerns of America's working families," said Nancy Pelosi. "I take this action with deep respect to the people of Colombia and will be sure that any message they receive is one of respect for their country, and the importance of the friendship between our two countries."

The president sent the trade agreement to Congress for consideration on Tuesday. Pelosi says she urged him to delay and warned the White House the measure could not pass in its present form.

Word that Pelosi wants to put the measure on hold has infuriated the White House. Spokeswoman Dana Perino says the rule change will have a chilling effect on future trade negotiations.

"We think this is an awful precedent," said Dana Perino. "We think it's a terrible thing for this administration, but it's also terrible for all future administrations, both Republicans and Democrats, because countries will not be able to have faith in our word when we're negotiating trade deals."

Members of the president's cabinet are also speaking out. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson says that in trying economic times, the United States should embrace agreements that boost trade.

"These are tough times and the brightest spot by far is trade," said Henry Paulson. "I can't recall a time when trade has played such an important role in our economic growth and in creating jobs for Americans."

President Bush called Congressional leaders to the White House Wednesday to discuss the Colombian free trade agreement and other issues. When the speaker emerged from the meeting, there were no signs of any progress in resolving the impasse on the trade deal.