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Alaska drilling plan faces tough Senate fight

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republicans took to the Senate floor Monday to argue that a spike in gasoline prices and an Iraqi oil embargo underscored the U.S. need to reduce dependence on foreign oil by allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Still, supporters recognize that the events won't help them get the 60 votes needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster on their measure to permit drilling in the refuge.

CNN's Brooks Jackson checks the facts on the debate over drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (April 10)

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GOP leadership aides said Republicans have discussed not offering the measure at all -- thereby avoiding having it voted down -- since ANWR drilling is already in a House-passed energy reform bill and will be part of the House-Senate conference.

"Our members need to come back and talk about how to proceed, but all options are on the table," a GOP aide said.

ANWR oil exploration is the centerpiece of the Republican energy reform bill, and its chief sponsor, Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski, is unlikely to let debate end without a vote.

"He still plans to offer ANWR before the Senate," said spokesman David Woodruff, who said the Republicans should not pass up the rare chance to get the Senate on record on the issue.

One GOP aide said the Republican strategy has been to get at least 51 votes for the measure in order to go to House-Senate conference showing most of the Senate supports the drilling.

But an aide to Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-New Mexico, suggested Republicans are concerned they may fail to get a majority of senators to vote in favor of drilling in the refuge, which would hurt their negotiating position.

Members of the Republican leadership are expected to discuss their strategy at a meeting Tuesday night.

If a measure to permit drilling in the refuge is offered, it will not happen until late this week or early next week, GOP leadership aides said.

But the Senate was debating energy reform legislation for more than two weeks before leaving for congressional recess, and Democrats hope to wrap it up by the end of this week.

Confident he has enough votes to defeat the drilling proposal, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, has suggested the Democrats may offer the GOP measure in order to force the vote and expedite its defeat.

Critics argue drilling in the refuge would damage one of the last great wilderness areas on the continent while providing a limited supply of oil.




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