Just what he wanted

December 20, 2005

Ted. Ted. Ted. Is there no limit to the depths to which you will sink in order to get your way?

Senator Stevens, the wily and determined Alaska Republican, has maneuvered to ensure that colleagues who vote against the short-sighted and vastly oversold plan to allow oil drilling in Alaska's wildlife refuge must also vote against defense spending during wartime, rehabilitation funds for victims of the hurricane-wasted Gulf Coast, heating assistance money for the poor, and production of a vaccine to protect the country against an Asian flu pandemic.

Clever, yes. The tactic freed a $40 billion budget belt-tightening measure that had been doomed by the Alaska drilling provision, and smashed to smithereens the House coalition of moderate Republicans and unified Democrats that provided much of the resistance.

But breathtakingly despicable: truly an abuse of power to which the rest of the Republican congressional leadership signed on.

Senator Stevens is effectively holding hostage military spending and other key items in the measure in hopes of thwarting a filibuster against the Alaska drilling. The Senate should refuse to submit to this blackmail.

Senator Stevens' frustration is understandable. At 82, he has been battling in vain for three decades to open Alaska's last remaining refuge to oil and gas exploration. He can't overcome the reality that it's a bad idea.

New energy sources there are not adequate to make much difference in U.S. supplies - and would likely be exported to nations with closer ports than the Lower 48 in any case.

Meanwhile, the last protected region of Alaska's coastal plain would be forever despoiled.

The senator is primarily interested in new jobs the energy projects would create, and the resulting boost to his state's economy.

But there also seems something of a legislative manhood test going on here. Near the end of a long and distinguished career, the senator known as a master of last-minute wheeling and dealing seems to see the drilling issue as a blot on his record he must correct.

But he doesn't deserve this legislation as a parting gift. Mr. Stevens' constituents and the rest of the nation would be better served by putting more resources into conservation and the development of alternative fuels.

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