There's no excuse.
A bill dealing with the ongoing genocide in Darfur is languishing in Congress. It's a sorry example of how hard it is to get something done in Washington even when every major player is on the same page.
There are epic battles in the House and Senate and White House over polarizing issues that go on and on with no permanent resolution. Look no further than the recurring questions of drilling for oil in Alaska or making certain federal tax cuts permanent.
In this case, however, there is almost unanimous agreement between the Bush administration and House and Senate Democrats and Republicans when it comes to condemning the murderous regime in Sudan. Still, Congress has yet to send a Darfur Peace and Accountability Act to President Bush.
On June 30, 2005, House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) introduced H.R. 3127. The House, on a 416-3 roll call, approved the "Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2006'' on April 5.
It's an important piece of legislation for Hyde, who is retiring after this term and he has put a priority in getting it to Bush's desk to sign. He would have liked to have the legislation completed before last Sunday's "Save Darfur'' rally on the National Mall.
The ranking Democrat on Hyde's panel is Hungarian-born Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a Holocaust survivor who knows too well what happens when the world remains silent.
On July 21, 2005, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) sponsored a version of the same legislation, S. 1462, considered so noncontroversial that it passed with the unanimous consent of Senate GOP and Democratic leaders on Nov. 18, 2005. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) signed on as a co-sponsor.
There are no major differences between the House and Senate approaches, at least no gulf that should be impossible to bridge.
Since the bills were introduced in 2005, the situation on the ground has changed for the worse. So far, between 200,000 and 400,000 people in Darfur, in western Sudan, have died and more than 2 million driven from their homes.
The Darfur accountability bills deliver a variety of diplomatic slaps to the Sudanese government.
The genocidal conflict started in 2003, when the government-backed Arab Janjaweed militias launched wholesale attacks against ethnic Africans. On Sept. 4, 2004, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell used the word genocide in describing what was occurring while testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Since the introduction of the bills in 2005, portions of the legislation had to be rewritten to reflect that African Union troops on the ground need to transition to a United Nations peacekeeping mission. Bush is calling for the deployment of a NATO force to work with AU soldiers.
Staffers on the House International Relations and Senate Foreign Relations committees and State Department aides are negotiating to finalize identical language in the bills and expedite final passage.
There is a question of whether the Janjaweed militias should be classified as a terrorist organization, and therefore subject to certain sanctions.
The House bill has language dealing with divestment; the Senate is silent. But nothing in the pending measure pre-empts any state laws dealing with divestment; Gov. Blagojevich signed almost a year ago a bill halting any State of Illinois investment with a company doing business with Sudan. Divestment should not be a roadblock issue.
The biggest issue is, in a sense, a technicality. The devil is in the details. The United States wants to provide humanitarian assistance to the semi-autonomous southern regional government of Sudan, to help implement a peace agreement covering certain areas. Capitol Hill staffers are working with the State Department on language that delivers assistance to the area while somehow not seeming to hand a gift to the Sudanese rulers in Khartoum. No one wants a repeat of the Iraq oil-for-food scandals.
I'm told that the triangulation between the House, Senate and State Department should be worked out in a few weeks.
Bush sent Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick to peace talks in Nigeria and a deal seemed possible Wednesday. There are a lot of moving parts in this situation, but Zoellick's progress should not delay firming up a deal on the Darfur Act.
There is a strong will. Hopefully, soon, there will be a way.