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Tax bill still up for debate, but no sign of dropping ANWR drilling in sight

(Photo: Carrie Braes)

In Washington, U.S. senators are still debating a bill to cut taxes and repeal the mandate that everyone have health insurance. The bill would also open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. For more, Alaska Public Media’s Lori Townsend turned to Washington correspondent, Liz Ruskin.

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TOWNSEND: Hi Liz.

RUSKIN: Hi Lori.

TOWNSEND: Liz, is this taking longer than was expected?

RUSKIN: Yes, and we did actually expect it to pass last night. There were concerns about how much this would add to the deficit. And then all day, the Republican leadership has been trying to. They’ve been holed up in Senator [Mitch] McConnell’s office, trying to work out the concerns about the deficit and the impact on the deficit and different taxes that senators wanted changed. And so, consequently, the Democrats have been on the floor of the Senate complaining that there’s no bill.

TOWNSEND: So, assuming that this bill does pass tonight, what’s next?

RUSKIN: In theory, the House could take this bill, the Senate’s bill, and just pass it, and that would send it on to the President for his signature, but that doesn’t usually happen. So instead, the bill will go to a conference committee composed of Senators and House members. We believe Senator [Lisa] Murkowski will be on that conference committee. And that’s where they hammer out the differences between the Senate bill and the version the House passed. And then the final bill that they work out, the comprise bill, it goes back to both chambers and has to be passed again.

TOWNSEND: So, the Arctic Refuge part is still in this bill now, Liz. Could it be dropped in the conference committee?

RUSKIN: Yes, in theory, it could, but I actually don’t see that happening because I’m not seeing any lawmakers, at least no Senators, saying, “To get my vote on this package, you’re going to have to drop the Arctic Refuge drilling part.” It’s just not come up this year in that way. So, the Arctic Refuge drilling part is in the bill now, and it calls for a 50-50 split of revenues instead of the 90-10 that many Alaskans believe it should be. It seems to be moving right along with the tax bill. So, if the tax bill passes, I think this could actually open the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling. It’s hard to believe after all these years of living through this issue, that it could actually happen. But, it does seem close.