Thursday, December 22, 2005

Why ANWR? Why Now?

The Senate approved the provision of the defense spending bill that would give $29 billion in aid to the Gulf Coast. But don’t start signing your checks just yet. Since changes occurred in the bill, it goes back to the House to be approved. Again.

One of those changes is the removal of a provision opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling.

Could the bill have passed “as is” without the ANWR provision tacked on? Maybe. In that case, the $29 billion would be a Presidential signature away from heading to the Gulf Coast. Instead, it's headed back to the House.

So, why stick ANWR on this bill? Supplemental appropriation bills are often attached to unrelated spending bills to send money quickly to an area after a disaster. But there is no disaster in ANWR. There is no pressing need to start drilling for oil in the Arctic Refuge.

But to Alaskan SenatorTed Stevens, there is a pressing need. It has been pressing him for 25 years:
Back in 1980, the deal went like this: Vote yes on setting aside 19 million acres of wilderness, said Sens. Henry "Scoop" Jackson of Washington and Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, and Congress will support permission to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Stevens agreed. Tsongas and Jackson, meanwhile, died before Congress could grant permission to drill.

Their debt survives, Stevens insists. And he's playing procedural hardball to make the Senate pay up.
And hardball is definitely his game:
"It's going to be awfully hard to vote against Katrina," the Alaska Republican said.

He made a strategic decision to pit Katrina aid versus drilling in ANWR.


Stevens lost his bid to open up the spigot of ANWR. We lost one more day to shore up our levees before the start of net year’s hurricane season. In my opinion, that’s his debt repaid. We sacrificed one day for his 25-year-long fantasy. I hope it wasn't the day we needed.

Stevens said that “he wouldn't withhold hurricane aid to get ANWR passed.” Apparently, he couldn’t do that if he wanted to.

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