Stevens puts Senate on hold over ANWR
It's an audacious power play, even for Sen. Ted Stevens. The Alaska Republican is trying to secure the mother of all pet projects for his...
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — It's an audacious power play, even for Sen. Ted Stevens.
The Alaska Republican is trying to secure the mother of all pet projects for his state: oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Stevens has attached the provision to a popular defense-spending bill and has put holiday plans of his Senate colleagues on hold as he dares Democratic and moderate Republican opponents to vote against it.
It's a risky gambit. Alaska drilling is the most controversial environmental issue before Congress, and Stevens has tucked it into a bill that pays for the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I support what he's doing, but if you're too cute in maneuvers, they can backfire on you," warned Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. "That's a big package there, and we are up against Christmas. I sure hope someone has counted the votes."
Although neither side will predict the outcome, some drilling opponents said they would not budge.
"It doesn't belong on a defense bill," Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., said of the ANWR drilling provision. He said Stevens was misusing his authority as the author of the defense-spending bill, granting drilling "a significance that is out of proportion. It's just not fair."
But Stevens said that if the drilling provision falls, other non-defense programs in the bill would suffer, because royalty revenues from oil would pay for low-income heating assistance and relief to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. "The real possibility is that unless we pass this bill, a lot of those people are not going to receive the assistance they should have," Stevens said.
The proposal to drill in the wildlife refuge has long eluded Stevens. He has tried to attach it to all sorts of bills, but he has never been able to navigate around fiercely opposed environmental groups.
Earlier this year, Stevens tried to insert the Arctic provision in a major deficit-reduction bill. Because the budget-cutting measure enjoyed special protection from parliamentary hurdles in the Senate, Stevens thought it would be the perfect vehicle for passing the drilling plan. But that tactic was scuttled in the House because of strong objections from GOP moderates.
At the urging of House GOP leaders, Stevens decided to try his luck on the defense bill. In an ominous sign for impatient senators, he appeared to be in no rush. "I could go all month," he said on the Senate floor Monday. "I've been with it for 25 years."
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