US Senate keeps India deal for ‘lame duck’ session

Washington, September 30 :

The India-US civil nuclear deal ended up as ‘unfinished business’ on the Senate plate as the house went into recess early today for the Congressional elections without taking up a measure that has wide support across the political divide.

Despite a last minute push from the Bush administration, opposition Democrats declined to take up the enabling bill before adjourning at 0230 hours but agreed to consider it in a “lame duck” session after the November 7 elections.

Majority and Minority leaders Bill Frist and Harry Reid had worked through Friday on a “package” on how to debate the bill that was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a 16-2 majority, but could not be taken up by the whole chamber in the face of objections from a few senators from both sides.

As the Senate raced through several other bills considered crucial by the White House, Minority leader Harry Reid promised to put the bill on “automatic pilot” so that it may be taken up as “the first order of business” after the break.

“I would hope we could take a limited number of amendments, very short-time agreements on these and have it set up so that, when we get back when the elections are over, this (bill) be the first order of business we move to. We could set it up so we could finish it in a very long day but we can do it in one day,” said Reid.

Frist had on Thursday night reported to the Senate that the Democrats had declined to approve a managers’ amendment to the bill worked out by Senate Foreign Relations committee chairman Richard Lugar and its ranking Democrat Joseph Biden to ensure its quick passage.

If like members of his own party, the Democrats had agreed to pass it without further amendment or debate on Thursday night it could be sent to conference over the recess to resolve their differences with the other house over the legislation, he said.

That way “we could be assured of sending this bill to the President before we adjourn,” he said.

The House of Representatives had passed a different version of the enabling bill by an overwhelming 359-68 votes.

But President George Bush cannot sign it into law until he gets an identical version

of the legislation from both chambers.

The democrats had instead chosen to offer a few “killer amendments” that would be unacceptable to the Indian government in terms of the July 18 agreement between Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Reid, however, blamed the Republicans for the delay in bringing the bill to the Senate floor for debate and vote. It was a couple of senators from their side who had put a hold on the bill because of “Title II” inserted by Lugar, he said yesterday.