Lawmakers have feuded over drilling in Alaska's wilderness for 25 years. In 1995, leaders of the new Republican majority in Congress thought...

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WASHINGTON — Lawmakers have feuded over drilling in Alaska’s wilderness for 25 years.

In 1995, leaders of the new Republican majority in Congress thought they had realized a long-sought goal by passing a bill permitting drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). But President Clinton vetoed the measure.

Emboldened by electoral gains and President Bush’s re-election in 2004, Republicans believed they had enough clout to muscle the measure through as part of this year’s annual budget process.

But proponents were thwarted again Wednesday as Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., rounded up enough allies to derail a bid by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, to attach the plan to a bill funding Iraq and Afghanistan military operations. Two Republicans and 41 Democrats opted to filibuster the defense bill (Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., joined them at the last minute, a parliamentary move allowing him to seek another vote later).

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Republicans earlier used a rare, tie-breaking vote by Vice President Dick Cheney to pass nearly $40 billion in spending reductions on another measure marked by testy floor debate. But environmentalists were the clear winners Wednesday.

The defense-bill procedural vote — in which drilling supporters fell four votes short of the 60 needed to end the filibuster and force action — gave environmentalists a rare legislative win, and it ensured that a 1.5 million-acre stretch of the refuge will remain untouched for now.

Party leaders and key senators worked into the night before salvaging the defense bill, minus the drilling provision, on a 93-0 vote. The House, which has adjourned, must agree to the new version, a step it could take today by agreement of party leaders.

A look at ANWR

Created in 1960 as the 8.9 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Range in northeastern Alaska.

Expanded in 1980 to 19 million acres and renamed a refuge, with 8 million acres declared an official wilderness; 1.5 million-acre coastal plain set aside for potential oil development, but only if Congress approved.

Oil in coastal plain estimated from 5.7 billion to 16 billion barrels of recoverable reserves.

Estimated peak production of 1 million barrels a day, almost 5 percent of U.S. consumption, but 60 percent expected to be exported.

Wildlife includes caribou, musk oxen, polar bears and an annual influx of millions of migratory birds.

The Associated Press

“This is the greatest environmental victory of the year,” said Lydia Weiss, a lobbyist for the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife.

The failure of drilling advocates to push forward a measure that has been on the brink of passage so long highlights some complicated politics within the Republican Party. GOP leaders had to back down this year when moderate Republicans in the House protested a move to insert ANWR drilling into the comprehensive budget bill that was eventually pushed through on Cheney’s vote.

But Stevens, the Senate’s most influential drilling proponent, refused to quit, tacking the plan to the defense-spending measure and threatening to go after lawmakers’ favored projects if they didn’t play ball.

The warning worked with moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who issued a statement Wednesday saying she worried an impasse over the defense bill would endanger low-income heating funds.

Two key Republicans, Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., and Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, were unmoved. “We’ve got to find other ways to be energy independent,” DeWine said.

Stevens’ maneuvering infuriated Democrats: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., refused at one point during Sunday night’s debate to allow Stevens to respond on the floor to his attacks. Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said Wednesday that Stevens was to blame for holding up money for the military: “I am not the one threatening support for our troops in the middle of a war.”

Stevens took the Senate floor Wednesday night and continued to attack drilling opponents, suggesting money generated by drilling would have paid for homeland-security programs and disaster relief.

“I’m going to go to every one of your states, and I’m going to tell them what you’ve done,” he told colleagues who voted against the measure. “You’ve taken away from homeland security the one source of revenue that was new … I’m sure that the senator from Washington [Cantwell] will enjoy my visits to Washington.” The American Petroleum Institute also condemned the Senate, saying “its refusal to seize this opportunity does a disservice to American consumers and fails to acknowledge that the consequences of inaction are adverse and significant.”

ANWR advocates said they expected another drilling fight next year. “We’ve been arguing about ANWR for the 21 years I’ve been here; it’s not going to go away,” said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

Cheney, who cut short an overseas trip to be on hand, rescued Republicans from two embarrassing defeats by casting the decisive vote in a 51-50 approval of the five-year budget-reduction package. Five Republicans, one independent and all 44 Democrats voted against the cuts, contending they were too hard on programs for the poor.

Democrats used a parliamentary objection to strike three small provisions from the 774-page measure, forcing it back to the House for a new vote. Nevertheless, the budget vote was a long-sought victory for GOP fiscal conservatives who had insisted on cutting federal spending, in part to offset payments for post-Hurricane Katrina relief and rebuilding operations in Gulf Coast states.

Republicans, however, are planning to seek passage early next year of at least $56 billion in additional tax cuts over five years. The net result would be a $16 billion increase in the projected $314 billion deficit for 2006.

The spending bill would reduce the growth of spending on Medicare, Medicaid, welfare and student loans. On Medicaid, the health-care program for the poor, the bill would reduce benefits and require recipients to share some costs. It also would reduce the amount Medicaid pays for prescription drugs and make it harder for the elderly to transfer assets to become eligible for Medicaid long-term-care coverage. Medicaid spending would be reduced by nearly $7 billion over five years. The bill also would reduce spending on Medicare, the health program for the elderly and disabled, by $6.4 billion over five years.

Students receiving college loans and their parents would pay higher interest rates and fees. The bill would cut spending on student loans by $12.7 billion over five years.

Details on the budget bill were provided by Knight Ridder Newspapers. Stevens’ comments were reported by Alicia Mundy of The Seattle Times Washington bureau.

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