The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a $453 billion defense spending bill in the early morning hours of Dec. 19 that opens the way for oil and gas drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The ANWR provision, brought to the House floor in the defense-spending conference report by Alaska Rep. Don Young, forced many opponents of oil and gas exploration along the barren Arctic coast to vote for it. It passed 308-106 a few minutes after 5 a.m. EST, and also included $29 billion in federal aid for victims of Katrina and other storms, $3.8 billion to prepare for a possible bird flu pandemic and other provisions.
Pro-ANWR drilling lobbyist Jerry Hood said the ANWR drilling provision had a much closer call in an earlier procedural vote on which 16 House Democrats rallied to the aid of the Republican majority to approve the legislation. Twenty-one Republicans voted against the rules motion, he added.
The House also narrowly passed a plan to cut budget deficits by nearly $40 billion over five years. The measure, which passed 212-206, carried an extension of expiring welfare laws and repealed a program that compensates companies hurt by trading partners who “dump” their exports in this country.
The votes came before sunrise as bleary-eyed legislators struggled to wrap up their work for the year. Democratic anger over the process was put aside briefly as lawmakers greeted Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who returned to vote after suffering a heart attack Thursday.
While House lawmakers were heading for the exits, the end was not in sight for the Senate, which can’t leave for Christmas until it deals with spending bills and the deficit-cutting package as well as a filibuster on renewing the Patriot Act and one possible on defense spending with ANWR drilling in the bill. Senate votes on defense spending and deficit reduction could come as early as late Dec. 19.