- The Washington Times - Monday, December 19, 2005

House members left town for the year, leaving the Senate to determine the fates of a massive defense spending bill and a budget-trimming package, both of which the House passed in the early morning hours yesterday.

In the Senate, Democrats are vowing to block the defense spending bill unless Republicans drop a provision that would allow oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Senate Republican leaders late yesterday filed a motion to limit debate and force a final vote on the defense bill. Senators will vote on the motion tomorrow.

Democrats are working to round up support to defeat the bill. If they fail to secure enough votes, they will object to the drilling provision under a procedural rule, a Senate Democratic aide said.

Meanwhile, the Senate began debating a bill to cut $40 billion from several entitlement programs. The House approved the measure by a vote of 212-206.

The bill, held up for weeks by the ANWR provision, was freed when House and Senate leaders agreed to move the provision to the defense bill.

Republicans say the budget cuts are crucial to rein in spending and pay for relief for the massive destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast.

“This bill is a victory for the American people and the economy,” said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

Democrats said the bill cuts programs that affect the most vulnerable. “I don’t know what the poor, the elderly, the disabled or our foster children have done to Republicans to deserve this,” said Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat.

The final bill did not include reductions to the food-stamp program or a provision to split the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Both provisions were included House’s original proposal to cut $50 billion from the budget but were not in the Senate’s original $35 billion plan.

The House yesterday approved the $453.5 billion defense bill by a 308-106 vote. The measure includes the ANWR provision, $29 billion for hurricane relief, $3.8 billion to combat avian flu, and a 1 percent cut in all discretionary spending programs other than veterans programs.

Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, is the driving force behind the ANWR proposal and insists it remain part of the defense spending measure.

“I expect that bill to pass, and I expect that bill to pass containing the provision,” he said.

Senate Democrats say they will use every tactic available to thwart Mr. Stevens’ strategy. “To do it this way is absolutely wrong,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “It shows absolute contempt for the rules of this body.”

“We’re going to fight it, and hope the majority of our colleagues will stand with us,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat.

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