The United States Senate will take up the India-US nuclear deal bill for a debate and vote after sundown on Wednesday (early Thursday morning IST).
Five Democratic United States Senators -- Senators Robert Byrd, Jeff Bingaman, Daniel Akaka, Russ Feingold and Tom Harkin -- had opposed a unanimous consent to the bill.
But Bingaman, Akaka and Harkin relented after intense pressure from Senate Majority Leader and Nevada Democrat Harry Reid and the rest of the Democratic leadership including Senators Joe Biden -- Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama's running mate -- and Charles Schumer.
The Bush administration, the Indian American community and the US business lobby was also pushing for the deal, and Byrd and Feingold gave their nod for the bill on Tuesday night.
According to Reid, on Wednesday, a 90-minute debate on the bill will be held in the Senate immediately after its morning business and other formalities.
The debate will be followed by vote after sundown and the completion of the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah.
Sources said that there would be 90 minutes of general debate, during which two amendments would be introduced by Senators Byron Dorgan and Feingold.
The Dorgan amendment would seek to clarify policy in the event of an Indian nuclear test and the Bingaman amendment would seek to know what type of reporting the administration would provide Congress if India tests.
Each amendment would be limited to 60 minutes of debate, both with a 60 vote threshold. Then Feingold and Harkin would control 15 minutes of debate time each and then the bill would also be limited to a 60 vote threshold.
Unlike the House of Representatives, which requires two-thirds majority for the passage of a bill, the Senate has no such requirement and a simple majority would suffice.
Earlier, Byrd, a 91-year-old lawmaker from West Virginia, scuttled the chance of the deal being ratified by the Congress to coincide with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's meeting with President Bush in the White House Oval Office on September 25. He vehemently opposed the attachment of the India-US nuclear bill to any omnibus 'Continuing Resolution' on appropriations, which was the vehicle being strongly considered by the Senate leadership to push through the ratification of the deal before Congress adjourned.
According to sources, no one 'wanted to mess with Byrd' because he was the quintessential expert on filibustering and could tie up the Senate in knots if he is not accommodated.
Byrd and the other Senators, who were part of the 'Dirty Dozen' who voted against the enabling legislation -- known as the Hyde Act -- two years ago to facilitate the US-India deal, also resisted 'unanimous consent' to waive the 30-day requirement of a consultation period to get the 123 Agreement through before Congress adjourned.
A unanimous consent is considered important because if that can be agreed to before the bill is taken up for an up or down vote, it would eschew any filibustering and delays in a vote and any attachment of amendments.
Indian American community activists and pro-India lobbyists working closely with the likes of Schumer, Clinton and Reid told rediff.com that they were elated that the Senate was finally taking up the bill. They predicted that both the Dorgan and Feingold amendments would be easily defeated and the bill passed, thus completing the final hurdle for the consummation of the deal.
Dr R D Prabhu, a physician in Las Vegas and a close friend of Reid, told rediff.com that the Democratic Senator had assured him that the deal would be completed before the Senate adjourned for the year in the first week of October.
Sources said that the hold-outs had acquiesced after Reid had threatened to call back the Senate for another session after it adjourned if the India-US nuclear deal legislation was not completed even if the Senate completed its work on the financial rescue plan.
On Tuesday morning, Reid, at the start of the Senate session, said, "We are still working on a agreement to consider the India-US nuclear agreement," but added "I am quite sure we can finalise that so there can be a vote on that on Wednesday."
Earlier, White House deputy spokesman Tony Fratto said the vote by the Senate now that the House had voted affirmatively on the bill on Saturday, was 'a very, very, high priority,' for the administration.
He said, "We have been in very close touch with Majority Leader Reid, who has committed to getting that agreement passed in the Senate. I don't know if the President and Majority Leader Reid have specifically spoken about it recently, but I know our staff has."
Fratto said "Secretary (of State Condoleezza) Rice and others have been in contact with the Senator and his office it's a very, very high priority for us. We want to get it accomplished and Senator Reid does as well."
The nonproliferation lobby, led by Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said, "So far, the Congress has, in its haste to meet arbitrary political deadlines, swept several fundamental problems with the deal under the rug."
He said the Dorgan and Bingaman amendments 'address two of them', but neither he nor any of the other nonproliferation activists held much hope that these amendments would prevail and would likely be defeated without much of an effort thanks to the intense lobbying of the Bush administration, the Indian American community and the US business lobby led by the US-India Business Council.