House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday said the House should vote on a bill punishing China for its currency manipulation before members consider three free-trade agreements (FTAs), although the House was scheduled to approve the FTAs in just a few hours’ time.
On the House floor, Pelosi argued that the Colombia FTA is only expected to help create a few thousand jobs, while other estimates say China’s manipulation of its currency is costing the United States more than 1 million jobs each year.
Pelosi noted that the Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that could lead to increased duties on imports from China unless China allows its currency to appreciate, and said the House needs to follow suit. House Republicans have made it clear, however, that they will not move on the currency bill, S. 1619, and noted that the Obama administration also opposes that bill.
“We shouldn’t even be talking about trade bills until we [approve the Senate bill],” Pelosi said. “Why can’t we do that in the House? I think we should call a halt to doing any of these things until we say to the American worker, ‘We’re on your side when it comes to these trade agreements.’”
Pelosi’s comments came during debate on the Colombia FTA, which most Democrats are expected to oppose because it does not include beefed-up language to protect union workers from violence. She said that keeping language that the Obama administration negotiated with Colombia on labor out of the final implementing bill renders that progress meaningless when it comes to enforcement.
“If it’s not in the bill, it doesn’t exist,” she said, adding that she “lost ... faith” in the deal when it became clear that that language would not be included. She also said House Republicans managed to keep out a Labor Action Plan on which the United States and Colombia had agreed, but House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said the language was kept out under a bipartisan agreement.
Earlier in the debate, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) predicted that most House Democrats would vote against the Colombia FTA later Wednesday to oppose the lack of tougher labor language. He said Democrats in particular have learned their lesson from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which also put labor language in a side agreement.
“Many of us were here when we passed NAFTA,” he said. “We thought we read it and understood what it meant, but we didn’t understand a lot of what happened. Because we agreed that we wouldn’t put the labor into the agreement, we’d write a side deal, and we wouldn’t put the environment into the agreement, we put it in a side letter.
“It did not have the force of law of the United States Congress.
“If we believe in workers’ rights and we believe in human rights in this place … but when we write a trade agreement for Colombia, we’re unwilling to write in the demands for the Colombian workers, that’s what’s wrong with this and that’s why most of us will vote against it.”
“This is long overdue,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “This creates jobs,” he added, saying that he agreed with the administration’s prediction of 250,000 jobs created over the next decade with passage of the FTAs.
Many, and possibly most, Democrats are expected to support FTAs with Panama and South Korea, which will also be up for a vote later Wednesday.