WASHINGTON – In a last-ditch effort to authorize oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Republican congressional leaders moved Thursday to attach the controversial measure to a popular military spending bill.
Drilling supporters were banking on the hope that opponents would not take the political risk of voting against money for troops in wartime to kill the energy exploration initiative, a priority for President Bush.
Sen. Gordon H. Smith, R-Ore., who has voted against drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge, said he would vote for the military appropriations bill even if the Arctic drilling measure were attached.
“I cannot in good conscience take away (from the troops) their bullets to defend themselves,” Smith said.
Although Arctic drilling has been supported by House and Senate majorities, it has been blocked in the Senate by filibusters led by Democrats.
Republicans have not been able to muster the 60 of 100 senators needed to cut off debate and force a vote.
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, a longtime drilling champion, spearheaded the move to attach the drilling measure to the annual military spending bill.
Democratic leaders were pressing their rank and file to stick together to strip the drilling measure from the military spending bill. Their central argument – that Arctic drilling did not belong in a military appropriations bill – also resonated with some Republicans.