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CQ Today: Stevens Touts Linking ANWR Provision With Hurricane Aid

Dec. 14, 2005 – Updated 3:23 p.m.

Stevens Touts Linking ANWR Provision With Hurricane Aid

By Steven T. Dennis, CQ Staff

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.

House Schedule

With a budget deal in doubt, Blunt chose to emphasize plans to pass measures this week on border security, appropriations, renewing the Patriot Act, overhauling pension law, and extending federal support for terrorism insurance. He mentioned the budget and tax cut packages only when asked by a reporter.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who heads the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), said he told Republicans at a meeting Wednesday that he wants the House to settle “about a dozen issues,” before wrapping up for the year, including budget reconciliation and across-the-board cuts needed to offset the cost of aid provided to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

“House conservatives are adamant that we do the work of fiscal discipline the American people sent us here to do,” Pence said he told members. “I just think that, while the 109th Congress has another year to go, we are at a moment of critical mass on public expectation.”

Pence said he is not comfortable postponing budget reconciliation until next year. Legislative action probably will not begin in earnest until February.

“Many of us are concerned that it would be difficult to return to the budget debates of the fall of 2005,” he said.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, another RSC member, said ANWR is important but should not hold up the overall budget cutting package.

“ANWR is important, but it’s a separate issue,” Hensarling said. “It’s imperative as Republicans that we show we are capable of controlling federal spending.”

Fiscal conservatives continue to run into resistance from defense hawks to applying an across-the-board cut to defense spending during a time of war. Hensarling said the savings could come from areas that do not affect the war on terror.

Senate Votes

Meanwhile, Senate lawmakers were voting on a series of nonbinding motions to instruct conferees on various provisions in the budget savings package.

The Senate agreed, 64-27, to a motion not to include the House provision reauthorizing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program. It also agreed, 66-26, to a motion opposing food stamp cuts. The House also agreed, 75-16, to a motion opposing cuts to Medicaid that would increase costs or restrict eligibility or access to health services for beneficiaries.

Although these motions are non-binding, they underscore the difficulty GOP leaders face in fashioning a final package that can win enough votes in both chambers and still maintain a significant level of savings that would appease conservatives.

Other motions pending Wednesday afternoon would oppose cuts to child support enforcement and elimination of a law that sends trade-dumping panealties to aggrieved U.S. companies instead of to the federal Treasury (PL 106-387), also known as the Byrd amendment.

Democrats also continued to attack the Republican budget cutting plan.

“This plan is written in the spirit of the Grinch who stole Christmas,” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said in a conference call with reporters. “While in the story, the Grinch realizes the error of his ways,” she said, the Republicans and President Bush do not.

Meanwhile, the Emergency Campaign for America’s Priorities, a left-leaning group formed to oppose the budget and tax cut reconciliation packages, reported that scores of its supporters were arrested at the Cannon House Office Building at a prayer protest of the budget package.

Adam Satariano, Susan Ferrechio, Ben Evans and Liriel Higa contributed to this story.

First posted Dec. 14, 2005 1:13 p.m.

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