After 25 years of campaigning to allow oil drilling in an Alaskan wildlife refuge, and years of being denied by Democrats, victory for Sen. Ted Stevens hinges on a procedural rule.
The Alaska Republican is determined that the Senate votes this year on his provision, which would allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
"We're going to face up to ANWR either now, or Christmas Day, or New Year's Eve," Mr. Stevens said yesterday.
Senators will cast several key votes today, including on a $40 billion budget-trimming package and on a $453.5 billion defense bill.
Standing in the way of the defense bill is a Senate rule that, among other things, forbids House-Senate negotiators from inserting into a final bill a provision that wasn't in either of the original versions.
That is what happened when congressional negotiators -- at Mr. Stevens' insistence -- agreed to insert the ANWR provision into the defense bill, although it wasn't in either of the original House or Senate measures.
Both chambers approved ANWR in 1995, but it was vetoed by President Clinton. Since then, it has surfaced in Congress every few years, but has been unsuccessful, largely because Senate Democrats have fought it. President Bush supports the provision and campaigned for it during the 2004 election season.
This year, the Republican strategy was to include ANWR in the budget-trimming package, which is protected from filibuster. The Senate included ANWR in its version of the budget-trimming bill, at Mr. Stevens' insistence, but a group of more liberal House Republicans threatened to sink the final budget bill if ANWR was in it.
To free the budget bill, Mr. Stevens tagged ANWR to the defense-spending bill instead -- daring senators to vote against funding for the troops and arguing that ANWR is a matter of national defense, because it reduces dependence on foreign oil. The House passed both the defense-spending bill and the budget-trimming bill Monday before leaving town.
Angry Democrats say the effort to push ANWR through as part of the defense bill will break the rules and set a horrible precedent.
"It shows that ... if the rules are inconvenient, then just overrule them," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
Mr. Stevens will have to overcome a Democratic filibuster threat today and then ask for a majority vote on whether the rules should allow the provision to remain in the bill.
He has employed several tactics to ensure that ANWR survives this battle. First, he linked it to other popular issues by stipulating in the defense bill that long-term ANWR revenues would go to help rebuild the shattered Gulf Coast and to help fund a low-income heating program.
Yesterday, he also reminded Democratic senators how many of them in the past asked him to add various pet items to spending bills when he chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee.
And fellow Republicans joined Mr. Stevens today in making the case that if the ANWR provision goes down, the entire defense-spending bill fails -- including $29 billion for hurricane victims and $3.8 billion to combat avian flu.
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