Alaska Oil Drilling Legislation May Survive

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Legislation to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, apparently scuttled in the House last week, may resurface quickly, Republican leaders signaled Tuesday.

Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, the acting majority leader, told reporters there would be no attempt to reinsert the controversial provision in deficit-cutting legislation pending in the House.

But when asked about plans for a final House-Senate compromise measure, he sidestepped. "It's too early to worry about" the final bill, he said of a measure that is expected to be drafted in December.

Blunt made his remarks as he predicted the House would succeed in passing its version of the deficit-cutting bill by week's end.

In all, the measure would reduce projected deficits by roughly $50 billion over the next five years. It represents a significant part of the Republicans' year-end agenda.

Opposition by moderate Republicans left the bill short of the support needed to clear the House last week, and GOP leaders responded by agreeing to delete the oil-drilling provision.

Even then, Blunt and other senior Republicans conceded they remained shy of the votes needed to prevail on the bill, which is expected to draw unanimous opposition from Democrats.

The Alaska refuge provision, which calls for drilling companies to pay royalties and thus raise federal receipts, accounted for less than 10 percent of the bill's claimed deficit savings.

Of greater consequence in financial terms were proposed changes to food stamps, Medicaid, student loans and other benefit programs. These provisions, too, drew criticism from moderate Republicans, many of whom represent suburban districts that tend to be competitive politically.

As Blunt spoke, there was pressure on the leadership to drop plans for ending food eligibility for an estimated 300,000 recipients.

The food stamp cuts are estimated to save more than $800 million over five years by tightening eligibility for immigrants and families that presently are automatically eligible because they receive other non-cash government assistance.