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Tax Overhaul’s Arctic Drilling Byrd Problems Resolved

Murkowski says Republicans drafted fixes to technical concerns

Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, right, have been working through the snags with their tax bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, right, have been working through the snags with their tax bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 7:45 p.m. | Most of the focus has been on taxes, but the portion of the Senate reconciliation bill that would open up drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge needed to be revised, too.

Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the fixes that are being worked out for Byrd violations in her portion of the bill would be added to a substitute to be offered by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“We are finishing up the last of that and expect to have a curative amendment if you will as part of the process going forward,” she said.

Murkowski suggested that provisions of the bill violated the Byrd problem by either not having a budgetary impact or being extraneous in other ways.

“I can tell you that with anything when you’re working within the reconciliation you’ve got to have it so that you’re either raising revenue or the matters are not extraneous in any way,” Murkowski said in an interview. “So again if something is viewed to be outside of the revenue raising it’s, there is a flag and so you scrub it once, you scrub it twice, you go back three and four times, and that is the simple process that we’ve been going through.”

The legislation as it was reported out of committee directs the Interior secretary to lease within the Coastal Plain, or also known as the “1002 area,” using the regulations and management structure the department uses to lease oil and gas operations in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPRA), a separate region in northern Alaska .

That provision, however, would be subject to the National Environmental Policy Act, which would fall under the Environment and Public Works Committee’s jurisdiction, according to a source familiar to the discussions.

According to several sources, Democrats pressed, and ultimately succeeded, in having the Parliamentarian strip that from the bill. Under the solution, the Interior Department would then have to go through a more lengthy process to establish the leasing process rules and regulations.

Decoding Reconciliation: Why the Senate Only Needs 50 Votes on Tax Bill

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The language needed be adjusted in order for Republicans totry to pass the bill to overhaul the U.S. tax code under the budget reconciliation process, which allows legislation to advance with only a simple majority support.

“They have to have a curative strategy or it produces problems with the whole bill being in order. And that’s a problem,” North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis said earlier.

Among the rules and procedures named for former Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd that come into play during reconciliation bills is a requirement that only provisions from committees receiving reconciliation instructions in the budget resolution are included in the bill.

The Environment and Public Works Committee received no such instructions. Those instructions provided for only provisions belonging to the Energy and Natural Resources and Finance committees to be included.

Murkowski defended the bill as being tightly written to comply with the Byrd rule, but she said “if there’s one word that is viewed to be extraneous they say, ‘Well you’ve got to throw that out,’ and so you go back and forth with the parliamentarian.”

She also said every time the language in the bill is changed, she has to go back to the CBO to get a new score.

“You’re kind of adding, subtracting, adding, subtracting all throughout the way,” Murkowski said.

Paul M. Krawzak and Joe Williams contributed to this report.

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