Senate Democrats yesterday stepped up their opposition to Republicans’ attempt to add the president’s energy plan to an economic-stimulus bill, forcing the GOP to devise an alternative strategy to implement the measure.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, said he will filibuster the entire stimulus measure if the energy plan is attached.
“It’s a bad energy policy,” Mr. Lieberman said. “To suggest we can drill our way out of the energy problem is not the way out of the problem.”
Mr. Lieberman joins Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, in threatening to filibuster for their party’s preferred stimulus package.
They oppose the Republican energy plan because it includes oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The issue has split the Democratic Party’s base of environmentalists who oppose drilling, and union leaders who favor oil exploration because of the jobs it would produce.
Alaska Republican Sens. Ted Stevens, ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, and Frank H. Murkowksi, ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said yesterday they will proceed with their plan to move the energy policy as early as today.
Mr. Stevens said it will be attached to the stimulus plan because drilling will create hundreds of jobs and “is an absolute stimulus to the economy.”
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has blocked the energy plan from a vote. He has suggested he would let the energy policy move at the end of the year, but without the drilling provision.
President Bush’s plan also includes energy saving, alternative fuels and tax credits. It was passed by the House in early August.
Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said oil drilling does not belong in the stimulus package.
“I think attaching ANWR to the economic recovery bill would send as clear a signal as you could send that [Republicans] are not really serious about passing an economic recovery bill this year,” Mr. Daschle said.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, believes the Republican strategy is to stall debate on his party’s $15 billion stimulus plan.
“It’s a poison pill amendment designed to try and bring down the bill,” said Jim Manley, Mr. Kennedy’s spokesman. “He would oppose the amendment, it absolutely sends the wrong message and has nothing to do with stimulus.”
Republicans quietly concede they are working on a contingency plan to move the energy plan with an upcoming farm bill, or that an energy bill may not even move before next year.
Senate Republicans have pressured Democratic leaders for weeks to move the energy plan before the end of the year to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, threatened last week to attach the drilling rider onto “anything that moves” through the Senate.
The United States imports an average of 700,000 barrels of oil a day from Iraq, and its third-largest supplier, Venezuela, has criticized this country for its bombing campaign in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Republicans praised Mr. Bush’s order to fill the nation’s emergency oil stockpile to its 700 million barrel capacity.
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) in Texas and Louisiana is held in case of national emergency or a cutoff from foreign suppliers. It was reduced to 545 million barrels during the Clinton administration in an effort to lower gas prices.
“This is a very difficult situation and we should fill SPR as rapidly as we can,” Mr. Stevens said.