Wednesday, November 09, 2005

ANWR Update

Legislation that would allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is likely to become law:

On Thursday the Senate voted 51 to 48 to allow drilling in the refuge as part of a massive budget package; this week the House is expected to take up its version, probably with identical wording. The House vote remains too close to call, but proponents say they are within reach of victory.
The usual tricky tactics will almost certainly be used to get this to pass. In the past, Republican leaders have held open votes in violation of Congressional rules to browbeat recalcitrant colleagues into voting in favor of the measure or even to change their votes. In addition to that tactic, the vote is likely to be delayed until late in the afternoon, to make it more likely that only gung-ho representatives will remain.

Some members opposed to the bill remain hopeful:

But opponents, including a coalition of moderate Republicans, liberal Democrats and environmentalists, say they may still prevail because, they argue, the measure will do little to ease the current energy crunch. House GOP leaders are scrambling to gather votes for their bill, which has angered some rank-and-file Republicans because of its offshore and Alaska drilling provisions, as well as cuts to food stamps and student loans.

"Hope springs eternal that we can pull the rabbit out of the hat," said Science Committee Chairman Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.), a vocal critic of drilling in the Arctic reserve. "I really do think moderates are coming into their own. We're flexing our muscles collectively."

As much as that may be true, the leadership of the House has proven adept at pushing through measures that they really want. The fact that this is attached to a budget bill makes it even more likely to pass, even if narrowly, because few will want to be seen as holding up a budget.

Update (11 pm): Apparently the House leadership has removed the provisions regarding drilling in ANWR from the budget bill after objections from moderates. Of course, it may be reinserted when the Senate and House leaders hold a conference to reconcile the two budget bills. And the budget is still problematic because of steep cuts in necessary programs like food stamps, student financial aid, medicaid, and farm subsidies. So it is still no prize even without the ANWR drilling, just slightly less harmful.