Daschle subverts will of Senate to stop drilling in ANWR

Published January 1, 2002

Teamsters, Republican congressmen, and moderate Democrats spent the months of October and November attempting to force House Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) to allow a vote on natural resource recovery in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Unusual move

In August 2001, the House of Representatives approved oil recovery in a small portion of ANWR. On October 10, Daschle took the unusual step of canceling deliberations in the Democrat-controlled Senate Energy Committee and seizing control of the Senate version of the bill. Faced with likely passage in both the Energy Committee and the full Senate, Daschle chose instead to keep the bill from reaching a Committee or full floor vote.

In the Senate Energy Committee, Democrats Daniel Akaka of Hawaii and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana were poised to vote for ANWR drilling. Other Democratic senators who are not members of the Committee were considering joining Akaka and Landrieu if the bill reached the full Senate.

“Several members of the other side don’t want a vote on ANWR because they know they would lose,” said Senator Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska). “They didn’t have the votes in committee and we did.”

Now, pressure has mounted from a bipartisan group of Teamsters, Republican congressmen, and moderate Democrats for Daschle to allow a vote on ANWR, a key element in President George W. Bush’s energy plan. Moderate Democrats, in particular, feel they are losing political capital being associated with Daschle’s unusual tactics.

“Senator Daschle has subverted the will of the Energy Committee, the will of the Senate, and the will of the American people–all in order to deny the President a political win,” said Murkowski.

“At this point, they have decided to put this process behind closed doors and pull the plug on an issue that the President has said is important to our energy security in a time of war,” added a top Republican official at the Energy Committee.

Teamsters vow to punish opponents

Jerry Hood, the Teamsters Union special assistant for energy policy, added the weight of the traditionally Democrat-friendly labor organization to voices of outrage over Daschle’s tactics. Hood pointed out that opening a small portion of ANWR to natural resource recovery would create over 700,000 new jobs.

“In all 2000 elections, labor households made up 26 percent of the electorate,” observed Hood. “Those [politicians] who oppose the interest of working families are doing so at their own political risk.”

Most observers believed the Teamster/Republican/moderate Democrat coalition would succeed in rallying a majority of the Senate in favor of drilling in ANWR if the issue could be brought to a vote. As support in the Senate continued to build, Republican leaders threatened to attach the bill to any and all pieces of legislation favored by the Democratic leadership.

Stated Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania), “If they want a farm bill, then they will get a farm and energy bill–we will vote on the energy bill often until we get the energy bill. They can put that into their calculation and decide whether they want to spend Christmas in Washington.”

“Anything that moves will have energy on it,” warned Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi). “It shouldn’t be at the bottom of the list, and for Senator Daschle to say we’re going to do all these other things, and by the way, we’ll get to energy next year–no.”

Lott appeared ready to attach the ANWR proposal to Daschle’s cherished economic stimulus package, putting Daschle and the liberal wing of his party in the awkward position of filibustering their own legislation in order to forestall the coalition’s ANWR proposal.

In light of the growing pressure and tactical maneuvering, speculation began mounting that Daschle would relent and allow a straight vote on ANWR. Observers believed Daschle and other Senate liberals would be counting on a filibuster to thwart the will of the majority.

Such a filibuster, according to Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), “would be the first time in history we’ve had a filibuster against a national-security issue involving energy.”

Norton, labor president make case

Appearing November 9 on the Fox News Channel, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton observed, “It’s projected that this (ANWR) is our largest undiscovered area” of oil in American history. Moreover, “we’re thinking it’s as much as we import from Saddam Hussein for 45 years. . . . That’s over $4.4 billion a year that we send to Iraq to purchase oil.”

Norton also noted drilling in ANWR will be unlikely to harm the environment. Since oil drilling was approved in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, she noted, “the number of caribou there has gone from 5,000 in 1970 to 27,000 today.”

A few days prior to her Fox News appearance, Norton and Terence O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, teamed up to write an editorial in the Washington Times adding further pressure on Daschle to allow a vote on oil recovery in ANWR.

“U.S. energy production is not keeping up with our growing consumption, creating a rapidly increasing gap between domestic supply and demand,” wrote Norton and O’Sullivan. “Over the next 20 years, even with increased conservation programs, U.S. domestic oil production is calculated to decline by 1.5 million barrels per day, while demand will increase by 6 million barrels per day.

“We can develop a small portion of ANWR while guarding the environment,” they continued. “The administration is urging that the ANWR legislation impose the toughest environmental standards ever applied to oil production.”

Kerry calls coalition “unpatriotic”

Senator and Presidential hopeful John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) argued the Teamster/Republican/moderate Democrat coalition was unpatriotic to challenge Daschle’s unusual tabling of the ANWR issue.

“I find it irresponsible and even unpatriotic to press an issue that will not make a difference during our war on terrorism,” Kerry told the Environment and Energy Daily.

Kerry also argued that it was the coalition, through its unwavering pressure for a majority vote, rather than Daschle, that was using “strong-arm” tactics in the ANWR debate.