IRONICALLY, IT was a desire for more Indian software programmers that temporarily put the final vote on the Indo-US nuclear bill on hold. A 24-hour standoff between a Republican congressman, John Boehner, and the US Senate leadership ended at noon on Thursday with the former dropping his block on the bill.
Boehner, a member of the conference committee that finalises the text of the bill, declined on Wednesday to allow the bill to go for vote until an unrelated clause increasing the number of H1-B visas was included.
Swadesh Chatterjee, a key Indian-American lobbyist on behalf of the bill, says that Boehner, who is the outgoing Senate majority leader, was acting on behalf of Texas Senator, John Cornyn. Cornyn, according to opensecrets.org, received almost $160,000 in campaign contributions from the US infotech industry this year. "Just before Christmas, the political leadership tries to get goodies for their supporters," said Chatterjee.
However, the Democratic Senate leadership, led by Senator Joe Biden, was adamant that such issues would be dealt with by the new democratically elected Congress that meets next year. Intense pressure was placed on Cornyn, who withdrew his demand.
Congressional and diplomatic sources said that with the deadlock broken, the House of Representatives was expected to vote on the nuclear bill by Thursday evening. It was unclear whether the Senate would vote on Thursday or Friday.
Diplomatic and congressional sources say the bill is likely to receive overwhelming support. "It is because it was such a sure fire victory that Boehner tried to free ride on it," said a diplomat in Washington.
After the conference committee agrees on the final version of the bill, it is released to the rules committees of both houses of Congress. The rules committee then sets a time for voting.
However, all the conference committee members must sign the final bill for this process to start. This is why Boehner was able to exercise so much leverage.
Boehner's and Cornyn's actions were not driven by any opposition to the bill — both have voted in its favour in the past.