- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

Senate Republicans narrowly lost a vote to allow drilling in an Alaskan wildlife refuge yesterday, despite a political threat from one of the most powerful men in the Senate.
An amendment to the 2004 budget bill, offered by Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, stripped permission for oil exploration in a small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Passage of the Boxer amendment, by a vote of 52-48, was the Democrats' first successful effort to force a change in the Republican agenda this year.
A flurry of other Democratic amendments were offered last night and will continue today. Most amendments try to increase social spending by reducing the size of President Bush's $725 billion economic-stimulus plan, but none are considered to have much of a chance to pass.
Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, has been fighting to allow drilling in ANWR for most of his 35 years in the Senate. He closed his side of the debate yesterday with a stern warning for those who would defy him.
"In the time I've served here, many people have made commitments to me," Mr. Stevens said. "And I have never broken a commitment in my life. I make this commitment: People who vote against this today are voting against me, and I will not forget it."
As chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, Mr. Stevens is perfectly positioned to carry out political revenge by denying funding for federal projects in each state. After the vote yesterday, Mr. Stevens stormed out of the Senate chamber and refused to talk to reporters.
Mrs. Boxer said "it's safe to say" that Mr. Stevens was issuing a threat, but she was not deterred.
"We're a government of laws, not men," Mrs. Boxer said. "This is bigger than any one person. It's bigger than me. It's bigger than him. It's bigger than all of us, because [ANWR] is a God-given gift."
Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called yesterday's vote a "major disappointment." But House Republicans said there is still another chance for approval.
"Our energy package is going to come out the first of April. It will have ANWR in it, and we'll have another opportunity to revisit this issue in conference," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.
Bills that come out of conference are subject to up-or-down votes, so opponents wouldn't have a chance to strip the language from a bill.
Mark Pfeifle, spokesman for Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, called yesterday's vote a temporary setback.
"The vote was 54-46 against last April. Now it's 52-48," Mr. Pfeifle said. "The momentum is firmly moving toward environmentally sensitive energy production in ANWR."
In other budget matters yesterday, an amendment offered by Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, to add $8.9 billion in education funding and another $8.9 billion in debt reduction was defeated on a party-line vote. The amendment would have reduced Mr. Bush's economic-stimulus package to pay for the extra spending.
Democratic senators met yesterday to decide how to oppose the Republican-backed tax-cut package whether to get behind a $350 billion tax-cut compromise proposed by some centrist Democrats, or oppose any tax cut whatsoever. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts is among those who has kept a hard line against Mr. Bush's tax cuts. A Kennedy spokesman said the senator is "keeping an open mind" on the centrist package, but is leaning against it.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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