Rangel charges GOP with backtracking on trade deal

House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) Thursday accused Republicans of backing out of a trade deal that he said appeared to be in hand at one point.

Rangel told reporters that Republicans “have serious reservations about what they agreed to,” and as a result Democrats must allay GOP concerns in order to reach an agreement. Rangel is trying to craft a deal between the Bush administration and committee Republicans and Democrats that could allow four pending trade pacts to be considered.

A spokesman for U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said she has no reservations on what she agreed to last week, and is hopeful the sides will reach a successful conclusion.

The sticking point remains whether deals with Peru, Panama, Colombia and South Korea will allow U.S. labor laws to be challenged as inconsistent with International Labor Organization (ILO) standards. A successful challenge could result in benefits from the trade deal being reneged.

Business groups say they will not support an agreement that would allow U.S. labor laws to be challenged, while labor organizations say they will not support a deal that explicitly carves out U.S. labor laws from possible challenges. Business sources also said they do not believe the administration can agree to a deal that would allow challenges to U.S. labor laws.

Business lobbyists said Rangel, Ways and Means ranking member Jim McCrery (R-La.) and the administration appeared close to a deal last week until a meeting between AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Rangel.

Rangel indicated Thursday that excluding U.S. labor laws from potential challenges is a non-starter for House Democrats. He also said many observers believe U.S. labor laws could not be challenged as inconsistent with ILO principles even if they are not explicitly carved out.