WASHINGTON - The Republican-majority Senate cleared a crucial hurdle March
17 in its most advanced effort yet to authorize oil extraction in the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
By a single vote, the Senate defeated an amendment that would have
prevented a vote on ANWR as part of a budget resolution. A budget
resolution requires only a simple majority vote to become law, meaning ANWR
measures would not be debated on their own merits or as part of a larger
but related bill. It would be enacted as part of the budget.
Debate in the Senate is unlimited, a historical provision known as the
filibuster rule. Opponents of ANWR oil extraction have deployed the
filibuster in past Congresses to prevent a vote on ANWR from reaching the
Senate floor. Packaging ANWR oil provisions with a budget resolution is a
straightforward attempt to evade their being filibustered back onto the
shelf, for it takes a two-thirds majority vote to break a filibuster and
bring an up-or-down vote to the floor.
Even with a 55 - 44 majority (an Independent Party member leans Democrat),
the GOP cannot be sure of marshaling 67 votes to open ANWR.
The ANWR-laden budget resolution is still to be voted on, and no one can be
confident of the result. But on March 17, the GOP proved that it can muster
the simple 51 - 49 majority needed to bring the vote.
The House of Representatives must ultimately concur on Senate action taken
with regard to ANWR. At this writing, the court is still out as to whether
the House is willing to go along with addressing ANWR oil extraction
through a budget resolution. "The peoples' chamber" is generally regarded
as closer to grassroots issues than the Senate.