By Richard Mauer
Anchorage Daily News
March 11, 2005
Voting along party lines, the Senate Budget Committee's 12 Republicans outvoted its 10 Democrats, rejecting Sen. Russell Feingold's amendment that a budget bill is no place to change major federal policy.
"The revenue projections, the basis for putting this in the budget, simply don't add up," said Feingold, D-Wis., citing the budgeted $5 billion in lease revenues that would be split 50-50 with Alaska.
Republicans are using the budget process only "because the majority doesn't have enough votes to deal with this issue in the energy bill. The public doesn't want it, the major oil companies don't want it, and it's just going to derail the budget process," Feingold said.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., the chair of the Energy Committee and a member of the Budget Committee, said Democrats could block drilling in an energy bill with a filibuster that would take 60 votes to stop.
But under Senate rules, that's not the case with the budget, Domenici said.
"Those who oppose ANWR, if they have 51 votes, they will win. For those who favor ANWR, if they have 51 votes, they will win. Now isn't that pretty fair?"
Two years ago, Feingold attempted a similar amendment and lost by a single vote. The slightly larger majority this year represents Republican gains in November's election that supporters of drilling hope will carry into floor debate and prevent a repeat of their 52-48 defeat in 2003.
After the committee vote, Feingold vowed to carry the fight to the floor, where, in an interview, he said he could count on "a number of Republican supporters that this does not go on the budget."
"That's what this is all about," he said. "The president's assumptions are based on the flimsiest grounds I've ever seen. That's why it doesn't belong in the budget."
Domenici told reporters that the assumptions, if anything, were low, since they were based on $25-a-barrel oil. Oil is selling for twice that.
Among the Senate's 55 Republicans are at least six moderates on record as opposing a drilling provision in the budget, with one, Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, reaffirming that stand in a conference call with reporters Thursday.
"I voted that amendment last time, I expect to vote for it again this time," he said.
At least three Democrats are thought to support drilling, though one, Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, is being targeted by conservation and subsistence advocates because of his positions on other environmental and aboriginal issues. A spokeswoman for Akaka was unavailable to discuss his position Thursday.
Alaska's two senators, Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski, both Republicans, have asserted that this Congress represents their best opportunity to win a 25-year battle to open the refuge's 1.5 million-acre coastal plain for oil drilling.
Opponents are likewise concerned, though they've remained upbeat. On Wednesday, Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a moderate Rhode Island Republican who opposes drilling, conceded he'd have to change at least one vote from 2003 to prevail.
But Chafee might also be emboldened by his success in beating back another major White House initiative, the Clear Skies Act. On Wednesday, he joined with independent Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont and Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to prevent the bill from moving to the floor. They said the bill weakened the Clean Air Act and failed to impose restrictions on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
The refuge vote Thursday came amid a half-dozen votes on Democratic amendments that were all defeated 12-10, including provisions to restore health funds for veterans, require the government to seek lower prices for Medicare prescriptions by negotiating bulk purchases with pharmaceutical companies, and restore block grants for local communities and funding for "first responders" - police and fire.
In almost every case, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the committee chairman, said each measure would result in more taxation. Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the ranking Democrat, countered that in every case the Democrats had identified a revenue source for their amendments, while Republicans were spending the nation into ever-larger deficits by refusing to pay for the programs they were promoting.