US House postpones vote on n-deal; Senator puts it on hold (Lead)

September 27th, 2008 - 10:12 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 27 (IANS) The suspense over Congressional approval of the India-US civil nuclear deal continues with the House of Representatives postponing a vote on the landmark accord and a lawmaker putting it on “hold” in the Senate.The deal found wide bipartisan support in the House as it took up the issue for a 40 minute spirited debate at 6:48 p.m. amid the nation’s worst financial crisis in decades with key lawmaker Howard Berman, who had reservations about the implementing 123 agreement earlier, himself moving the approval legislation.

Berman, Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, agreed to bring forward a bill identical to one approved by an overwhelming 19-2 vote Tuesday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after the Bush administration convinced him that it was in consonance with the Hyde Act, the US enabling law.

However, the House engaged as it is in a race to finish pending legislative work before breaking for the Nov 4 elections, postponed a vote when critics led by Democrat Ed Markey insisted on a recorded vote after a voice vote on the bill to “approve the United States-India Agreement for Cooperation on Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, and for other purposes.”

With the House adjourning for the day at 9:38 p.m. a formal vote on the measure is expected only Saturday.

But while the bill may see smooth passage in the House, a new hitch has developed in the Senate with an anonymous lawmaker putting a “hold” on the consideration of the bill. The hold must be lifted before the agreement is brought to the Senate floor for debate or approved by “Unanimous Consent” of the legislators.

The “hold” process involves a lawmaker telling the Majority leader and Minority Leader that he/she is against the “hotlining” of the Bill without debate and vote through Unanimous Consent.

Earlier Friday, the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did indicate that the India deal would likely come up for approval before the Senate only next week after its consideration by the House of Representatives Friday, but made no mention of the hold.

With the Congress grappling with the Bush administration’s $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan to rescue the US financial system, Reid said: “It appears quite evident that we are going to be in session next week.”

There are a lot of things that haven’t been done and I will mention just a couple of them,” he said naming the India deal among them.
“We have the Indian Nuclear Agreement,” Redid said noting he had a “number of conversations on this issue” with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President George W. Bush.

As the House took up the India deal for debate, Rice, who had played a key role in bringing Berman around, also sent a letter to the Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying approval of the landmark accord will clear the way to “deepen the strategic relationship” with India.

The Congress has an “unprecedented and historic opportunity” before it to ensure that the US and India “complete the journey we began together three years ago,” she wrote referring to the July 18, 2005 joint statement of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Bush that set the nuclear ball rolling.

“I am writing to express my strong support for the ‘United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Nonproliferation Enhancement Act’, Rice wrote hours after Bush assured the Indian leader that his administration was “working hard” to get an agreement that would “satisfy you” passed as “quickly as possible”.

The agreement marks the culmination of a decade-long process of India’s emergence on the international stage and the Indian government’s “effort to steer a more pragmatic and realistic course in foreign affairs,” Rice wrote to Pelosi. “For the United States, passage of this legislation will clear the way to deepen the strategic relationship with India,” she said.

Rice maintained that the agreement will open significant opportunities for American firms, help meet India’s surging energy requirements in an environment-friendly manner, and bring India into the “global nuclear non proliferation mainstream”.

“We have an unprecedented and historic opportunity before us. With this legislation, Congress will help ensure that the United States and India complete the journey we began together three years ago, and ensure that US industry-just like its international counterparts-is able to engage with India on civil nuclear trade,” Rice wrote.

Earlier, State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood, expressed the hope that deal will get Congressional approval quickly “and we can go forward and implement it.

“It’s a good thing for the United States and India, and we do want to see it happen,” he said. “But obviously, time is of the essence. We want to see this agreement work its way through Congress very quickly.”

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