ANWR Oil Provision Part of Military Funding Bill
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
Coming up, how much the New York transit strike is costing the city.
But first, the Senate has rejected oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Proponents of drilling tried to include it in the defense spending bill, which funds operations in Iraq and elsewhere, and they dared opponents to defeat it. But the Democrats said the defense bill was the wrong vehicle for the ANWR measure, and they successfully fought an effort to end debate and hold a final vote on the bill. Here's Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander announcing the vote to the chamber.
Senator LAMAR ALEXANDER (Republican, Tennessee): On this vote, the yeas are 56, the nays are 44. Three-fifths of the senators duly chosen and sworn not having voted in the affirmative, the motion is not agreed to.
BRAND: NPR congressional correspondent David Welna was following the debate in the Senate, and he joins me now.
And, David, this is a big defeat for ANWR. What does this do to the defense spending bill?
DAVID WELNA reporting:
Well, Madeleine, it's also a big defeat for the Bush administration, which has been trying for almost five years now to open up the arctic refuge to oil drilling. It's clear this is the reason--the ANWR provision--that 44 senators voted to block the defense bill, and so Majority Leader Bill Frist has to decide now if he's going to strip that ANWR provision out of the defense spending bill, or Frist could simply say, `Well, you want to keep debating the defense bill? Fine. We'll stay here right through Christmas and do so,' in hopes that that would cause opponents to fold. But I think what's most likely to happen is that Congress will have to pass another stopgap funding bill to keep the Pentagon operating into the new year while they try to get this thing sorted out.
BRAND: Well, what else is in this defense spending bill besides funding for the troops?
WELNA: All sorts of things. There's $29 billion in funds that would go directly to the Gulf Coast for reconstruction, and bypassing FEMA in doing so. There's money for equipment for the Border Patrol and for building fences along the border, free of environmental restrictions. There's even a provision that shields vaccine makers from lawsuits. But most significantly, there's a measure sponsored by Senator John McCain that bans all forms of torture and inhumane treatment of detainees, which had been strongly opposed by President Bush, but he yielded on that one.
BRAND: So back to ANWR for a second. Does that mean drilling there is now dead?
WELNA: Well, I don't think efforts to open up that refuge will ever end, at least not as long as Alaska Republican Ted Stevens, who's now 82, is in the Senate.
BRAND: And earlier in the Senate, there was another vote on another bill, and by the barest of margins they passed a measure for across-the-board spending cuts. What was in that bill?
WELNA: Well, it cuts about $40 billion from projected spending in the next five years on an array of entitlement programs, something that hasn't been done for eight years now. And most of those programs help the poor and sick, but also cutting more than $12 billion from college loan funding. And that's hugely controversial, since it's done in the name of cutting the budget deficit, and yet Congress plans to approve tax cuts early next year that will mainly benefit the wealthy that will far exceed any savings from these spending cuts. So it's not really deficit reduction.
BRAND: And that was a close vote.
WELNA: It was as close as it can get. The Senate split exactly 50-to-50, with five Republicans joining all the Democrats in opposing the spending cuts. And Vice President Cheney, who'd just broken off a trip to the Middle East to be on hand, ended up casting the tie-breaking vote in his role as president of the Senate.
BRAND: And where does this measure go next?
WELNA: Well, it's not clear what's going to happen to this budget bill now, and that's because earlier today, Senate Democrats succeeded in pulling out some provisions that were in it that had been approved by the House by only a 6-vote margin during an all-night session last Sunday night. House members would have to come back and approve this spending cut bill again because the language has changed, and an aide to the acting majority leader says they don't plan to come back until the end of January. In that case, there'd have to be a stopgap funding resolution or some kind of a resolution to keep this going until then, but that will be very close to the tax cuts and be uncomfortable for House members to cast.
BRAND: NPR congressional correspondent David Welna, thank you.
WELNA: You're welcome.
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