- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle yesterday took control of the energy bill in a move to strengthen his opposition to the administration's proposal to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which President Bush says is critical to national security.
In an unusual legislative action, Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, announced Tuesday night that he has canceled further deliberations over the bill at the request of Mr. Daschle, who will now have sole authority to shape the bill to his own specifications.
Mr. Bingaman said that Mr. Daschle canceled the committee's markup and seized control of the bill "to avoid quarrelsome, divisive votes in committee."
But angry White House officials and Republican leaders saw a much different motivation behind the majority leader's action, and some accused him of playing politics with an issue of national security.
"This action by the Democrat majority has taken the nation's energy security and made it a partisan issue locking out Republicans and the entire committee process," said Alaska Sen. Frank H. Murkowski, the committee's ranking Republican.
"At this point, they have decided to put this process behind closed doors and pull the plug on an issue that the president has said is important to our energy security in a time of war," said a top Republican official at the Energy Committee.
Senate Republican leaders said last night that Mr. Daschle has given them no indication of what he intends to do with the energy bill, or even if plans to bring one to the floor before Congress leaves town at the end of the month.
"The Democrats are playing a shell game. Congress will not see an energy bill with the way things are going," said a Senate Republican leadership official.
"They know they are vulnerable to presidential pressure on the need to address our nation's energy needs while we are at war, and they are having a hard time figuring out how to handle this issue," the official said.
The House passed an energy bill this summer that calls for drilling in parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), but Democratic leaders are opposed to it. However, the administration has won support among some Democrats for more oil drilling, especially in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that heightened concern about being dependent on imported oil from the Middle East.
But Republicans, fearing that Mr. Daschle will never let the energy bill see the light of day, stepped up their attacks on the majority leader last night.
"Senator Daschle has subverted the will of the Energy Committee, the will of the Senate, and the will of the American people all in order to deny the president a political win," Mr. Murkowski said. "Turning a matter of national security into a partisan issue is the height of irresponsibility."
Kyle McSlarrow, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham's chief of staff, said he was surprised by Mr. Daschle's move because "we have been working very closely with the Senate leaders on a bipartisan basis."
"We are still urging that Democrats and Republicans sit down and shape a comprehensive bill," Mr. McSlarrow said.
Republicans are not the only ones angry with Mr. Daschle's move to block the panel from finishing work on a bill.
The Teamsters, which sees ANWR drilling as a major jobs producer for its members, called on the South Dakota Democrat to bring an energy bill up for a Senate vote as soon as possible.
"We will hold him to his word," said Jerry Hood, an energy adviser to Teamsters President James P. Hoffa.

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