Two senior US lawmakers, Congressman Gary Ackerman and Joe Crowley, both members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who have been solidly behind the push for an expeditious consummation of the US-India civilian nuclear deal, have acknowledged that it is highly unlikely that it will be completed on Thursday when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets with President Bush in the White House Oval Office.
In interviews with rediff.com, both lawmakers said that the Foreign Affairs Committee was working on a bill after Bush submitted the 123 Agreement for ratification last week and that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also wanted it done as quickly as possible, but that finding an appropriate vehicle for it to be attached on to in order to ensure safe passage was proving to be tricky.
"We still have to find a vehicle for this and we are trying to tag it on to the Continuing Resolution -- that's what we are trying to do. (Speaker)Nancy (Pelosi) would like to do that, the Democratic leadership would like to do that," but Ackerman said the Republicans, even though gung-ho for the deal, didn't want to attach it on to the CR.
"They want a clean continuing resolution," he said. "We want to attach this to something that has a guarantee because the only thing on the agenda right now that has to pass -- that we have to do -- is not the (massive $700 billion) bail-out package because the bailout could be a calamity, but we don't have to do it. But, we have to pass the CR otherwise there is no government before we adjourn and we can stretch the adjournment over the weekend or whatever," Ackerman said.
Asked if Congress would go in for an extended session or come back for a lame-duck session after the November elections, Ackerman said, "Nobody's taking lame-duck session. We can leave here on Friday and come back or we can stay over the weekend or leave and come back Monday. There's Jewish holidays Tuesday, Wednesday, and so we'd have to go back and forth and back and forth. We'd all like to stay a few extra days and get everything done that has to done."
Thus, he said, if the India nuclear agreement legislation could be gotten into the CR "and get that (the CR) passed, then we've got it done."
Ackerman, when asked if the Republicans were willing to compromise on the CR, quipped, "The bazaar is open. Everybody's negotiating to get things that they think is important. This (the India nuke deal) is very important to us -- all of us who've worked on it."
"We have a 50-50 shot to get it done this session. But I can't tell you whether its Thursday, or Friday or Saturday or Sunday. Yesterday, it was a long shot, tomorrow it may be a long shot again," he added.
Crowley said he did not believe the India nuclear bill could make it as part of the CR in order to ensure passage. "I don't anticipate that. I think that's not going to happen."
"I think the CR needs to be for a lot of reasons kept clean by itself instead of adding things that really gets dragged down," he said.
"The argument here is that if the president wants the India bill included, then there are members of Congress saying they want other things included too. And, so, that may very well be an indication to where this bill is right now," Crowley said.
"As you can imagine," he said, "things have turned a little bit upside down here in Washington this week. And, if you would forgive me for a moment, the nuclear deal is not the first and foremost piece of business on the front of our minds right now."
"The economy has certainly taken over and the happenings on Wall Street have certainly taken over a great deal of our attention," Crowley said.
But he asserted that "this is still a very important piece of legislation and one that in a bipartisan way was worked on. So, I continue to support this legislation and I will work to see it through and I remain hopeful that we'll have a bill before this Congress ends."