Senators are pushing this week to approve a Bush administration plan to allow the US civilian nuclear fuel shipments to India. But with a crowded legislative agenda, time is short for a foreign policy initiative greatly coveted by US President George W Bush.
The proposal, which would reverse decades of US anti-proliferation policy, could be considered as early as Wednesday. If it is not taken up quickly, however, passage could be delayed for months.
It enjoys support from major lawmakers in both political parties and was endorsed overwhelmingly by the House of Representatives in July. But the Senate is considering many other issues, including a must-pass bill to finance the government, nine spending bills and the consideration of Bush's choice to replace outgoing Defence Secretary Donald H Rumsfeld.
A senior Democratic lawmaker and proponent of the plan, Senator Joseph Biden, has indicated that the legislation probably would require at least a day's debate. That could be more time than is available, with the term ending in December after a two-week recess that starts next week.
If the proposal is not handled during the current, Republican-controlled session, the legislative process would have to begin again when a Democrat-controlled Congress goes to work in January after yet another holiday break.
While top Democrats champion the proposal, some members of the party have pushed for inclusion of conditions they say are needed to guard against possible nuclear proliferation. The proposal's congressional supporters say those conditions would kill the effort because India would never accept them.