Defense authorization bill in limbo as Senate recesses

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., had to abandon his hope of completing action on the fiscal 2002 defense authorization bill this week. On Wednesday, Republicans insisted on securing an agreement to bring up energy legislation, effectively stalling the defense bill. With no immediate prospect of freeing up the defense bill, Daschle announced that Wednesday's passage of the fiscal 2002 Military Construction appropriations bill would be the last vote of the week. Both issues will be back on the agenda when the Senate reconvenes Monday after breaking for Yom Kippur. Daschle told reporters that he thought the delay was "unfortunate," and that he hoped to schedule action on defense authorization early next week. Daschle vowed that Senate leaders would not "fall back into the political difficulties that we experienced before," adding, "We're going to try to avoid political confrontation." Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman Larry Craig of Idaho said Republicans were holding up the defense bill as a "point of leverage" to get an energy bill considered. "I think that Democrats would hope that we would act later, rather than sooner," on the legislation, he said. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., has been seeking to offer broad energy legislation--including language authorizing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. At presstime, Inhofe and the Senate Democratic leadership had not reached an agreement on a schedule for considering that energy legislation. Inhofe has threatened to try to attach comprehensive energy legislation to the fiscal 2002 defense authorization bill if Daschle does not schedule floor time for energy policy this fall. "We think this is a big national security issue," said a Republican aide. If Democrats do not set a date for an energy debate, Inhofe will call for a vote on either of two comprehensive amendments he has filed when the Senate returns next week. Explaining why he thought Democrats refused to take up the amendment, Craig said, "I think they're very fearful of the loss of [Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] as an issue," and lack the votes to defeat the president's proposal for new drilling there. Senate Minority Whip Don Nickles, R-Okla., said Republicans "just want a commitment to get it done this year," adding, "Energy is going to be critically important - it's part of our national security." Craig said Democrats had indicated they might be willing to take up the energy bill by the end of February. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that, "I hope we can move forward quickly, and I don't think Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be part of the discussion."