The shocker came June 29 as Congress cleared out of Washington for the Fourth of July holiday. Pelosi announced that Rangel and presumably Levin would be off to Peru and Panama to demand new changes in their labor laws as payment for the negotiated trade agreements. She rejected the Colombian pact out of hand.
U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, a former Senate staffer, usually treats Congress with care -- but not in a July 6 letter to Pelosi: "Unilaterally requiring another sovereign country to change its domestic laws before the U.S. approves a trade agreement would be a fundamental break with U.S. laws, policy and practice. No past administration or Congress -- Democratic or Republican -- has taken such a step. Nor would the United States agree to such a procedure if demanded by another nation."
Schwab's strong words had no effect. Nor did protests from Peru's President Alan Garcia and Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe. Democratic leaders are impervious to the reality that Colombia, Peru and Panama now enjoy one-way trade access to the United States, whereas the agreements would open their markets to U.S. goods. Nor do the Democrats show concern about alienating Uribe and Garcia as Hugo Chavez's menace spreads through the hemisphere.
Sweeney's marching orders are not limited to Latin America. He dismisses the negotiated agreement that finally would open South Korea to U.S. autos as "a losing, one-sided agreement." Obediently, House Democratic leaders declared the Korean pact dead on arrival. At least, Charlie Rangel and Sandy Levin are not headed off to scold in Seoul -- not yet, anyway.