WASHINGTON – It's become something of a congressional pre-Christmas tradition: Load up a piece of legislation that must pass with a controversial measure in hopes that lawmakers — in their desire to get home for the holidays — will pass it.
It can be an easy way to get a hard thing passed. But sometimes it makes an easy bill hard to pass.
Click in the video box to the right to watch a report by FOX News' Brian Wilson.
In a rush to get out of town before the holidays, GOP leaders wrapped their $453 billion defense-spending bill on Monday morning in a basketful of year-end goodies.
They tacked on $29 billion for Gulf Coast hurricane relief and $4 billion to help prepare for a possible outbreak of bird flu. Both were easy additions, but by dawn's early light on Monday, after an all-night session, lawmakers added a controversial provision allowing drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The defense-spending bill, as agreed to in conference with Senate negotiators, was then passed 308-106.
Even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who opposed ANWR and an $8.5 billion across the board spending cut included in the defense-spending bill, "reluctantly" voted for the legislation.
"Republicans have wrapped up the biggest present for our oil companies — just as these oil companies make already historic and obscene profits, and American families pay record prices to heat their homes," she said.
Members of the House then headed home for the holidays. But over in the Senate, Democrats looked like they had received a lump of coal in their stockings, and accused Republicans of playing fast and loose with the rules.
"This abuse of power will have long-term ramifications in this body, and is as bad or worse than anything ever attempted before, including the nuclear option," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, comparing the inclusion of ANWR on the defense spending bill to threatened efforts to prevent Democrats from using the filibuster option on the president's judicial nominees.
Drilling in ANWR, though controversial, has majority support in both Houses of Congress. It was dropped from a deficit-reduction bill last month as GOP leaders traded it for support for budget cuts. That bill has since passed.
But even with success in the House, every time ANWR comes up for final passage in the Senate, a filibuster is threatened. The measure's patron saint, Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, has never been able to get the legislation to the president's desk despite arguments to his colleagues that drilling in Alaska won't do damage to the wildlife reserve that many environmentalists claim.
"This area should be open to oil and gas exploration. We've had two environmental impact statements they have proved that no permanent damage will be done to this area, we have disproved all the allegations of destruction of wildlife," Stevens said.
Though no senator wants to be seen as voting against defense spending while military men and women are risking their lives, those opposed to ANWR drilling are again threatening to mount a filibuster.
"This is nothing more than a sweetheart deal for Alaska and the oil companies who stand to make a $100 billion in profits this year," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.
"And our hope is, we've been talking to people on the other side of the aisle, that people of good conscience are going to take a look at this and just say, 'Look, I may be for drilling but this is the wrong way to do this," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
It is unclear whether opponents of ANWR drilling currently have the votes to stop the provision. The Senate goes to vote to end debate on the defense spending measure early Wednesday. If they do block the bill, the House of Representatives won't be around to help patch things up.