Senate Panel Puts ANWR in Budget Resolution; Dems Vow to Fight It

Key Democratic lawmakers, including Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, expressed deep dissatisfaction with the Senate Budget Committee's move Thursday to include a provision authorizing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in the budget package for fiscal year 2007.

"The Senate remains deeply divided over this issue, and the Budget Committee should not include ANWR in its budget assumptions this year," warned Bingaman, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "Senate Democrats are acutely aware of the nation's energy needs... But most of us do not believe that oil and gas activities can be done in an environmentally responsible manner in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."

During markup of the budget resolution, the Democratic members of the Senate Budget panel tried but failed to remove budget instructions for the Senate Energy Committee to write reconciliation language by mid-May to open the coastal plain of Alaska's ANWR to leasing -- a move that is projected to reduce federal budget authority and outlays by $3 billion between fiscal years 2007 and 2011.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), the Democrats vowed that they would do everything they could to strike ANWR from the budget reconciliation package when it reaches the Senate floor. "We stopped this shortsighted proposal last year, and I'll fight for the same result this year," said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

By including ANWR in the budget resolution, senators will be prevented from filibustering the measure. A budget resolution is filibuster-proof, and requires only a simple majority of votes (51) to pass.

Many believed that ANWR, which has been the target of a more than decade-long fight in Congress, had a good shot at being passed last year. While the House overwhelmingly voted to open the refuge, the issue suffered a stunning setback in the Senate in late December when proponents failed to override a filibuster of a defense appropriations bill that called for refuge access for producers (see Daily GPI, Dec. 22, 2005).

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) had inserted ANWR in the defense appropriations measure after it was stripped from the budget reconciliation package to appease moderate Republicans.

On the House side this year, Republicans are equally as dissatisfied. A number of House GOP members sent a letter to Budget Chairman Jim Nussle (R-IA) last week expressing their objections to ANWR in the budget language.

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