A subscription-only article in Congressional Quarterly adeptly summarizes the complicated dynamics at work in Congress right now. Arctic Refuge drilling hangs in the balance. A long excerpt below the fold.
Backers of drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge floated the idea Wednesday of tying it to hurricane relief as part of a plan to resolve an impasse over a $45 billion budget savings package.
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said hurricane disaster relief would be put on the same bill as ANWR – either the budget savings package or on the Defense appropriations bill (HR 2863). Stevens chairs the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
"It’s going to be awfully hard to vote against [hurricane aid]," Stevens said. "If it’s in there, maybe people will vote with me on ANWR."
Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., another supporter of ANWR drilling, said that he is open to addressing the issue in another bill because he does not think it can survive in the budget package.
"The House has said they can’t," Domenici said of passing an ANWR provision as part of the budget reconciliation process. "However you can pass ANWR is fine with me."
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was also looking at new vehicles for ANWR drilling: "I think you need to look at what is left on the calendar and I think you take your pick . . . now is the time for ANWR."
The remarks came after House leaders continued to ratchet down hopes for completing a budget-cut package because of the ANWR impasse. GOP leaders tried to shift attention to other measures they hope to complete before the holiday recess.
House Majority Leader Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said he still wants to pass the budget savings bill and a tax cut reconciliation package (S 2020, HR 4297) this week, suggesting that ANWR language could be included in another bill instead. "There are any number of ways we could do it," he said.
The $50 billion House version of the budget savings bill (HR 4241) does not have ANWR language because moderate Republicans vowed to kill the measure if it was included. The $35 billion Senate version (S 1932) would allow ANWR drilling.
House leaders told rank-and-file members at a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning that ANWR was the chief hurdle for the package, because it appears the House cannot pass a budget-cut package that includes it and the Senate cannot pass a package without it.
About 20 moderate GOP lawmakers are vowing to oppose a final bill with ANWR language included, and most of the 30 Democrats who have backed ANWR drilling in the past are not expected to cross party lines.
Senate Budget Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., continued to push ANWR as part of the budget-cut bill. Gregg said the legislation is built on two key provisions that could not be passed in the Senate on their own because of filibuster threats – Medicaid savings and ANWR.
The Medicaid savings are shrinking during negotiations, and if ANWR is taken out as well, the final package will end up largely as a collection of "cats and dogs" that probably would not have needed the filibuster protection afforded by the reconciliation process, Gregg said.
But it is possible Senate leaders could pick up additional votes for the budget package from Senate moderates such as Norm Coleman, R-Minn., if ANWR is not included.