House Democrats stalled Bush’s Colombia free-trade pact, the papers say. The New York Times notes on C1 that the party-line vote “masks deep party divisions on the issue” among Democrats. Republicans say Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to prevent a difficult pre-November vote for her party, which sounds about right, considering that the Los Angeles Times flat-out says the vote delayed any consideration until after the election:

With trade increasingly prominent in the presidential campaign, Tuesday’s vote saved Clinton and Obama from a difficult choice: The pact was backed by business groups that support the two candidates, but it was vehemently opposed by a traditional Democratic ally—organized labor, which has condemned the ongoing slayings of Colombian labor activists.

The Wall Street Journal gets a better angle out of the news, saying senior administration officials are calling on “rattled” trade partners and international officials to reassure them that the U.S. is still pro-free trade, but they’ve been “greeted with reticence.”

The Financial Times:

Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute, said the consequences of the Colombia vote were “enormous” nevertheless.

“This is a calamity for the world trading system,” he said. “It undermines the whole basis for international confidence in the US as a trading partner.”

McCain gets religion on housing crisis

John McCain flipped his stance on the housing crisis, calling for a bailout of up to $10 billion of some homeowners, the papers say. The GOP candidate called for a Department of Justice investigation of the housing industry and the structured finance mentioned above, as well.

The WSJ says the plan “may mark a turning point in the Washington debate” from whether to help homeowners to how much to help them. McCain would allow underwater homeowners (not Atlantis-like underwater, we mean those who owe more than their houses are worth) to get new and cheaper fixed-rate, thirty-year notes with part of the loan written off by lenders and the note guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration.

“The plan is more aggressive than one offered by President Bush and less aggressive than Democratic legislation taking shape in Congress…” the Journal says.

The LAT says Big Mac’s plan would apply only to notes taken out after 2005 for primary residences, which sounds sensible, as does much of this quote from The Washington Post:

“Tax breaks for builders, funds to purchase homes in foreclosure and tax credits that are not targeted to where the need is greatest do not constitute the federal help that is warranted,” he said.

Two weeks ago McCain opposed a government bailout. The NYT:

Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, had been painted as uncaring by Democrats, and drew murmurs of concern from some Republicans, after a speech in California last month in which he cautioned that “it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers,” and noted that the crisis had been brought on by both lenders and borrowers.

The WSJ has a primer on the bailout plans.

Retail woes buried

The papers mostly underplay news from the retail sector that same-store sales tumbled 0.5 percent in March, the worst showing in thirteen years. Consumers reining in spending are helping Wal-Mart out—its same-store sales were up a still-anemic 0.7 percent.

The Journal puts the overall retail news on B1 but folds it into the fourth paragraph of a story about Gap sales falling 18 percent. The NYT runs an Associated Press story on C3, while the FT buries the overall same-store sales numbers in a positive Wal-Mart story.

The WSJ says on C1 that Linens ‘n Things will file for bankruptcy protection next week.

“Freedom” ain’t free

The Journal has a clever C1 story on Lehman Brothers going back to the financial-engineering well to help get it access to Federal Reserve cash. The investment bank has packed $2.8 billion in loans into something called “Freedom” which issued the very type of debt securities that got the bank into trouble in the first place. Only this time, there’s no worry about the market falling out from under them. There’s always a market with the Fed.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.