Ahead of the Nuclear Suppliers Group meet in Vienna, senior Congressional leaders have indicated that the House of Representatives and Senate could come back after the November 4 presidential poll for a 'Lame-Duck' session to clear pending business, which may include the Indo-US nuclear deal.
The fate of the civilian nuclear initiative in the Congress need not necessarily be decided in the short timeframe of the September 8-26 session, which meets after the 45-nation NSG's meeting in Vienna on September 4-5 to consider a waiver to India.
As things stand, the final session of the 110th Congress is scheduled for September 26 when the House and the Senate are due to wrap up business.
But contrary to speculation in the media, it is not the civilian nuclear deal that is likely to bring back the Lame Duck session of Congress after November 4. The deal, if not cleared on the Capitol Hill in the September session, could be part of the agenda should lawmakers choose to return after the November 4 elections.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, has said on several occasions that she is not in favour of a Lame Duck session; and Senate Majority leader Democrat Harry Reid has not said the last word on it.
The thinking of senior Democrats is that if the party romps home in the November 4 elections by making huge gains in the House and the Senate and capture the White House, it might as well do business on its own in the 111th Congress starting the first week of January 2009.
But some events may have changed this line of thinking, Hurricane Gustav being one of them. There is going to be a Lame-Duck session, House Republican Minority leader John Boehner said in an interview to Congressional Quarterly. "The only question is how long (will it last) and what will be covered."
"Hurricane Gustav does add more impetus. Look at the context, what we have to do, the alternative minimum tax, tax extenders, appropriations. You've got a whole list of issues that are going to be sitting out there, that have to be dealt with. And no one is going to know by the end of September what the outcome of the election will be. And the outcome of the election will have some bearing on what happens in November and December. Put all that together and there's going to be a Lame-Duck session. No question," Boehner emphatically said.
Boehner said Republicans would continue to insist on a floor vote on their "all of the above" energy proposal, which would end the moratorium on offshore oil drilling and development of Western oil shale, according to the report.
"I'm not thinking in that direction," Pelosi said last week about the possibility of a Lame-Duck session while House Majority Whip James Clyburn said he believed a Lame-Duck session was becoming increasingly likely because of an impasse on whether to extend the moratorium on offshore oil drilling in a must-pass continuing resolution to keep the government operating.
"We have not talked about it yet. But I think there's a very good chance that we might have a lame-duck," Clyburn was quoted as saying in the CQ report.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has maintained that the prospect of a Lame-Duck session would depend on ongoing negotiations with the White House and on what language on offshore drilling would be acceptable to President George W Bush. "We won't send them something they say they're not going to sign," Hoyer said.