House Budget Collapse Could End This Year's Drilling Fight

Alaskan North Slope
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House efforts to pass a fiscal year 2007 budget resolution dissolved yesterday, and the failure to reach a deal could effectively end efforts to authorize Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil drilling through the budget process this year.

The House leadership late yesterday tabled efforts to pass a budget blueprint amid major differences between GOP moderates and conservatives on spending.

Also key were objections from House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) over conservative-backed process reforms that would place new limits on annual disaster aid. Lewis said in a statement yesterday that he could not back a plan that "greatly diminishes" Congress' ability to respond to disasters.

The $2.8 trillion House budget resolution does not contain language that paves the way for allowing ANWR oil and gas leasing, but the Senate budget blueprint approved last month does. Drilling backers had hoped the issue could remain alive in a House-Senate conference if the House could pass a budget. If the House cannot even get to conference, the process essentially falls apart, likely killing ANWR and forcing appropriators to set discretionary caps on their own.

Use of the budget process to open ANWR is key for drilling supporters, because budget measures are immune from Senate filibusters. ANWR drilling has slim majority support in the Senate, but backers are well shy of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.

House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said yesterday that leaders would try again after the upcoming congressional recess.

"I remain committed to working with all members to reach agreement on budget process reforms so we can move forward with the budget after the Easter District work period," Boehner said in a prepared statement.

But the fissures within the GOP conference appear deep, and combined with united Democratic opposition to the budget bill and the spectre of the midterm elections, reaching a deal could prove very tough.

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