Senate battle rages over adding ANWR drilling to defense bill

| 12/16/2005

Federal budget reconciliations were delayed Friday, Dec. 16, as Congress continued its debate over the inclusion of exploratory drilling in the 1.5 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as part of a controversial appropriations measure.

Senate Republicans have rescheduled a joint conference committee meeting aimed at finishing a $453 billion defense spending bill, HR2863, until Monday, Dec. 19, after a standoff emerged over the inclusion of ANWR drilling in the package.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-AK, chairman of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, introduced the drilling language into the measure, and has stated that he will not vote in support of the appropriations unless ANWR is included in the package. Whether he will be able to win the necessary 60 votes to pass the measure, however, is still unclear, according to The Associated Press.

“We’ve agreed to put ANWR on it so we’ll just have to wait and see what’s going to happen,” Stevens told Congressional Quarterly Today. “The leaders of the subcommittees on both sides have agreed. They will support it, so I think it will pass.”

However, not everyone in the Republican camp has agreed with Stevens’ decision to lump ANWR into a defense-spending bill.

Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, whose highly publicized anti-torture provision was also attached to the defense appropriations, said Stevens’ push for such a move demonstrates why the legislative process is “broken.”

“Policy changes … and huge amounts of money are put on these appropriations bills, which leads to the kind of practices which the American people and I find so disgusting,” McCain said in a statement.

Stevens, who has been a staunch supporter of ANWR drilling, did sit idly upon hearing McCain’s comments, claiming the addition of the drilling – which could potentially lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil – is as crucial to national security as anti-torture legislation.

“I’m just doing my utmost to do my job, which is getting ANWR passed,” Stevens told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “I’ve waited 25 years now. I don’t have another 25 years.”