The Congressional approval and bipartisan support for the Indo-US nuclear deal defied conventional wisdom that the deal would face significant hardships in the Congress. That said the legislation in the US Congress could have been dead long ago sans a determined lobbying effort by the Indian diaspora, the US business community, the Indian government and the Bush administration.
In the US Congress, what matters most is the dictum of the Committee Chairman and the Ranking minority member of committee(s) the legislation is referred to; which in the case of the Indo-US nuclear deal was the International Relations Committee in the House and the prestigious Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate. Committee members tend to follow their party leader lock-in-step in the committee. And probably the most important success in the path of the nuclear deal came when retiring Republican Chairman Henry Hyde and Ranking Democratic member Tom Lantos of the International Relations Committee & Richard Lugar and Joseph Biden, their Senate counterparts responded favorably to the legislation. The bill passed the 42 member House committee with 37 favoring the deal.
Same goes for the so-called "killer" amendments offered by liberal non-proliferation hawks in the committee. The amendment proposed by Sheila Jackson Lee, an ultra-liberal Texan Democrat, had a new subsection asking India to sign the NPT. Without Henry Hyde and Tom Lantos' blessings, the amendment was voted down by a margin of 36-4. Another "killer" amendment by influential Democratic Representative Howard Berman from California proposing limitations on nuclear transfers to India met the same fate as it went down with 32 votes against the amendment. One may wonder what would've happened had Henry Hyde and more importantly Richard Lugar opposed the Nuclear Deal. Ultimately, the Senate debated the Indo-US nuclear cooperation and Promotion Act for 11 hours on 16th November. This too was done in a 'Lame Duck Session" where mostly important appropriation bills are discussed. This is a testament to the serious intent of the Bush administration in getting the deal through the Congress.
What may be most surprising is the dramatic stand of Rep. Dan Burton from Indiana, widely known as the standard-bearer of the Pakistan lobby in the House of Representatives. Burton voted "for" the legislation at every instance both in the committee and in the House floor. Of course, Mr. Burton was vying for the soon-to- be vacant chairmanship of the International Relations Committee. The insider Washingtonian talk was that a major impediment to Burton's Chairmanship dream was his antipathy towards India and the White House made it clear to Burton that a "Yes" vote for the nuclear deal was the only way to come closer to the Chairman's chair.
On the other hand, support for and opposition against the deal was in many ways determined by constituency-wise political beliefs. In the final House vote tally of the bill certifying the deal, the "Nay-Sayers" overwhelmingly consisted of urban liberal Democrats from New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and moderate Republicans representing Philadelphia suburbs where non-proliferation is a major issue for the constituents in matters of foreign policy.
Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader was opposed to a certain section in the bill which stated that spent US supplied nuclear fuel in Indian nuclear power plants would be deposited at the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in his native state of Nevada. For others, non-proliferation has become a personal crusade; prominent non-proliferation hawks like Ted Kennedy (Massachusetts), Russell Feingold (Wisconsin) voted against the nuclear deal on November 16. While Senators Hillary Clinton (New York), Debbie Stabenow (Michigan), Robert Menendez (New Jersey) voted for several "killer amendments" while supporting the nuclear deal in the final vote approving the Deal in the Senate.
Ultimate text of the legislation whose current Senate version varies greatly to its House counterpart will be crafted and voted jointly by both the chambers when Congress reconvenes in December. The Senate has greater leverage than the House in matters of Foreign Policy. And it's likely that the final shape of the legislation certifying the deal will bear the profound imprint of its creators in the Senate.