Having been denied the opportunity to sneak Arctic drilling through the Congress as part of the Budget Reconciliation bill, Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska has now resorted to an even more pathetic abuse of the legislative process: Trying to hold up funding for the military unless Congress gives Alaska the billions of dollars that Arctic drilling represents for the state. Stevens is not being coy about this -- he admits it. In fact, he repeats it. He doesn't want anyone in the Congress to doubt that this issue is so important to him that he will sacrifice the welfare of our troops. And the not-so-hidden message is that, if he will sacrifice our troops, he will certainly retaliate against Senators.
As of this writing, 47 members of the Senate have signed on to oppose Stevens's outrageous blackmail. The most likely Senators to push the number to 51 are John McCain, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Akaka and Inouye of Hawaii, Landrieu of Louisiana, and Coburn of Oklahoma. (Coburn favors Arctic drilling, but spoke out strongly against larding up the Defense Appropriations bill with unrelated provisions, saying, "It's wrong for members of Congress to use our troops as political cover for new spending.") Over on the House side, another Republican legislator spoke out strongly against this approach. Joe Schwarz of Battle Creek, Michigan, told his constituents:
"The last time this fiscal conservative checked, the Secretary of Defense did not request funding for private and parochial school vouchers, nor did he ask for drilling in national wildlife preserves as a means to support our military. The reason he did not ask is quite obvious: These have absolutely nothing to do with national defense. These are issues that should be considered independently, not lumped together in a confusing last-minute rush. The American people deserve better. More importantly, so do those that serve this country."
The Department of Defense Appropriations Conference Committee is meeting Saturday night, and the House will try to take up the final conference report up on Sunday. If the report is filed on Sunday night, the Senate won't take it up until Tuesday.
If Stevens goes forward, the 47 Senators are poised to challenge his attempt to add Arctic as being non-germane (it was not part of either the House-passed or Senate-passed versions of the Defense bill.) That argument will take 51 votes. If environmentalists fail on that vote, we will likely see a filibuster on the overall bill from the Democrats.
This is legislative manipulation at its most outrageous, but that's not a word Senator Stevens understands.