- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 10, 2005

Last night, House leaders gave up on their bid to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, fearing the provision could sink their budget-cut bill when it comes up for debate today.

The House Rules Committee made the change, and also dropped other provisions allowing states to authorize oil and gas drilling off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, when it issued the terms of the debate for the House budget package.

“There will be no drilling in ANWR,” said Rep. Charles Bass of New Hampshire, one of the Republican centrists who led the effort to strip drilling in the Alaska preserve from the budget-cut bill that contained the provision.

The reorganized House Republican leadership dropped the proposal in an attempt to win over Republicans like Mr. Bass on the overall bill, which, as of yesterday afternoon, did not have enough votes to pass.

“Trust me: We can do this,” Rep. David Dreier, California Republican and Rules Committee chairman, said of the bill, which would find about $54 billion in savings from entitlement programs across the federal government.

“It’s about reform; It’s about making programs work better,” said House Majority Leader Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, who stepped into the post in late September after Rep. Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, was indicted.

The ANWR provision was strongly opposed by a group of 25 members, including many centrists, who wrote a letter this week demanding it be dropped. Mr. Bass spearheaded the letter and said a similar number would probably vote against the bill if the provision remained.

But many conservatives want ANWR drilling to remain in the bill, so Republican leaders were left with a delicate balancing act — meeting with members like Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo, California Republican, who said he’d vote “no” if ANWR was out.

Last week, the Senate included ANWR drilling in its version of the budget, potentially giving the House-Senate conference on the budget another issue to thrash out.

Marnie Funk, a spokeswoman for Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, told reporters that her boss considers the Senate’s ANWR provision “one of the most critical components” in the budget.

“He is committed to coming back to the Senate from the conference with ANWR intact,” she said.

Even without the ANWR provision, the far-reaching House bill faced other objections. Centrists expressed concern about the political ramifications they will face if they vote for a bill that reduces spending on Medicaid, food stamps and other programs.

Many of Mr. Bass’ fellow centrists in the Republican Main Street Partnership want to reduce the overall amount of savings in the bill so that it more closely matches the Senate’s bill, which finds about $35 billion in savings from entitlement programs.

“It’s the package in its totality. The number is far too high,” said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, New York Republican, who complained that leaders, by forcing this vote, are trying to “clone” everyone in the party into one mold.

But Republican leaders yesterday pitched the bill as just that — a key opportunity for the party to stand up for what it believes in and recover its image as fighting for a leaner, smarter government with less waste and abuse.

“They made an appeal that this is a defining moment for our conference. It’s what we stand for, what we’ve campaigned on,” said Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican.

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