THE GOOD news: there is overwhelming support for the Indo-US civil nuclear deal in the US Senate. The bad news: this is why individual senators are tying their pet bills to the Senate vote on the nuclear deal.
Two such pet bills now lie between the nuclear deal being put to vote before the Senate goes into recess this weekend. One bill requires the US to allow more IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities. The other bill requires that no Indian nuclear waste must be put in a depository in Nevada.
Partisan squabbling over both these bills has made it impossible to get the "unanimous consent proposal" that would allow the nuclear deal to get through this week. Under such a proposal, the senators would limit debate and the number of amendments to the nuclear deal to ensure a speedy vote.
The first pet bill is an old problem that has resurfaced. The original nuclear deal legislation had come with an unrelated bill on US compliance with the IAEA's Additional Protocol attached. Rightwing Republican opposition to the language of the attached bill had held up the Senate vote for much of the past month. A compromise reached a fortnight ago was reported to have broken down with Democratic Senator Joe Biden objecting to one of the clauses in the compromise language. Last minute negotiations were on for yet another compromise, said diplomatic sources.
The second pet bill is an amendment to the nuclear deal moved by Democratic Senator Harry Reid. This would require that no civilian nuclear waste from India should be deposited in the Yucca Mountain Depository in Reid's state of Nevada.
This is also only tenuously linked to the nuclear deal and is really about a raging environmental debate in Nevada over the Yucca facility.
Ironically, Reid — who is Senate Minority Leader and the seniormost Democratic senator — has publicly said the Indo-US nuclear deal legislation is important and indicated he supports an early vote.
On Tuesday, his office claimed he had been among the first to call for a unanimous consent agreement. It blamed Senator Bill Frist —the Senate Majority Leader and seniormost Republican senator — for bringing 16 other bills to the Senate floor instead of putting the nuclear deal to an early vote.
Frist’s office reacted saying, “That is absolutely ridiculous, considering that we could not even get a list of amendments that Senator Reid and the Democrats wanted to add to the US-India nuclear bill.” Not providing such a list, said diplomatic sources, would delay any unanimous consent agreement.
Reid and Frist also disagree on the form of the unanimous consent vote with Reid holding out for a full day’s debate and Frist wanting it restricted to only seven hours.
With the nuclear deal mired so deeply in domestic US politics, exacerbated by the fact midterm congressional elections will be held on November 7, Indian diplomats accept matters are largely out of their hands. “At least both Republicans and Democrats insist they strongly support the Indo-US nuclear deal,” one of them said.