Several dozen Republican House members may have put an end to the latest thrust and parry over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Host Steve Curwood talks to New Hampshire Congressman Charles Bass, who led the effort to take ANWR drilling out of the latest budget bill.
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Twenty-five moderate Republicans in the House outmaneuvered their party leaders to derail a measure to allow drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The move to permit drilling was included in the House budget bill, and because it did not get a single Democratic vote, the 25 Republican holdouts were enough to kill the amendment, at least for now. A proposal to allow for wider offshore energy exploration was also abandoned. New Hampshire Republican Congressman Charles Bass led the effort. He says it was a matter of politics and principle.
BASS: We have simply said that this is a fall-on-your-sword issue. We will simply vote no and will do so happily. And when I presented the leadership with a letter with 25 signatures on it the other day at the leadership meeting, they took it to heart, as they should have, and we had a subsequent meeting. They asked us if we really meant what we said and when we did, they huddled and figured out that if they want the thing to move forward, it has to come out.
CURWOOD: So now the budget leaves the House without the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge attached to it as a rider or however you want to describe it. And there’ll be a conference committee with the Senate, because the Senate measure does contain this. What happens if somehow the Senate prevails in the conference committee and it comes back to the House with ANWR still attached?
BASS: We had a meeting with leadership in which they asked us, if ANWR were removed from the House version, would we be willing to vote for the bill? And enough of us said yes so that it was done. But we also said at the same time that if it comes back to us and if the House conferees are not willing to support the House position, which is no ANWR, we will vote against it again and the same exact vote will occur. And I think they took, believe it or not, some comfort in that position because they know that we’re going to keep our backs up and not change our vote on the issues.
CURWOOD: Over the years the battleground for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been the Senate, and particularly the Senate filibuster. This year, by attaching it to the budget resolution, the proponents of drilling in ANWR were able to bypass the risk of a filibuster. And I think it’s fair to say that they thought that they kind of had it made.
BASS: I reject the idea that if you can’t get a legitimate up and down vote on a policy issue that you try to do it through what I would consider to be a non-germane or irrelevant at best procedure. The budget is designed, because of the absolute necessity of having a budget, it’s not subject to filibuster. But when you begin to add these extraneous issues under the guise of providing revenues to make the budget balanced, I just think you’ve crossed to a point where I think you can oppose it just on the process issue alone.
CURWOOD: I wonder if an immovable object is going to meet an irresistible force. On the Senate side, you have Ted Stevens, a very senior—I think this year he’s, what, chairing appropriations. And from Alaska. I can’t imagine that there’s a more important issue for him right now than drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. There’s going to be tremendous pressure here.
BASS: There is. And if Senator Stevens decides that he wants to bring the entire reconciliation package down, that may happen. But there’s a lot more at stake. There are a lot of Republicans in the Senate that believe that we need to reduce the rate of growth of entitlements, that there are certain tax provisions that need to be extended. There are so many other issues in reconciliation that need to be addressed. I think there would be an equal amount of pressure from the rank and file members of the Senate that are not from Alaska to get a life and recognize that until there are 60 votes in the Senate, to get ANWR through on its own steam, it can’t be attached to a budget. And frankly, I haven’t seen the White House weighing in significantly on this issue. I think they have other things that they’re worrying about these days.
CURWOOD: So looking ahead, as far as you’re concerned and as far as the votes that you’ve got, you think that no drilling in ANWR, at least with this proposed legislation.
BASS: If we stick together, and if I have any say in it, there will be no ANWR in a budget package. I think that’s a pretty sure thing. And I agree that it hasn’t been that way until recently and I have tremendous respect for my colleagues who’ve been willing to stand up in the face of considerable criticism from their peers.
CURWOOD: Charlie Bass is a Republican congressman from New Hampshire. Thank you sir.
BASS: Thank you.
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