With their aggressive marketing campaign for the Colombian Free Trade Agreement moving at full steam and Latin American leaders offering strong support, the Bush administration believes that it will be able to win House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's nod to hold a vote on the trade deal before the elections. And to cut that deal, officials expect that there will be a reciprocal deal with Pelosi and House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel on their push for an expanded trade adjustment assistance package to aid displaced workers. While a deal remains a long way off, administration officials say they are now hopeful an agreement will be met for two reasons. First, Colombian and Latin leaders are voicing their support for the deal and are pressing Pelosi directly. Just this week, for example, the speaker of Colombia's House urged a vote and the ministers of trade and foreign affairs from Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Peru, and Colombia sent off their declaration of support for the deal. Some Republican strategists said that the Latin American uproar has the mark of a "foreign policy crisis" for the speaker.
Secondly, Republicans are moving to put the blame for inaction on Pelosi in advance of the upcoming election in which the Democrats are seeking to win the Hispanic vote. Pelosi has suggested a vote in the lame duck session, but the administration is pressing for an earlier vote and has counted almost enough Democrats backing CFTA to win approval if a vote were pushed soon. Opponents say that Colombia hasn't done enough on human rights and labor issues to join the free-trade world, but administration officials say that it has.