In an effort to rustle up enough votes to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling, outspoken drilling advocate Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) tried to sweeten the deal by offering to add a bailout for steelworkers to the energy bill. But the move appears to have backfired, with Rust-Belt Democrats supporting steelworkers but saying Arctic Refuge drilling should be judged on its own merits, and conservative Republicans rejecting the proposal as an example of just the sort of costly government relief program they love to hate. The steel industry wants as much as $12 billion over 10 years to cover pension and health-care benefits to retirees; Murkowski suggested that the industry could get a cut of government proceeds from exploration leases. Despite its drill-at-all-costs policy, the White House has declined to weigh in on the steel-for-refuge wheeling and dealing. But the signs aren’t good for the proposal; Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), the deputy for Republican Leader Trent Lott (Miss.), warned that Murkowski could lose more votes than he will gain.

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