FAIRBANKS - Sen. Ted Stevens says he may retire if his role in the gridlock over oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge helps contribute to an extended ban.
At issue is legislation the Alaska Republican accepted 25 years ago that set the stage for the stalemate.
Stevens told national reporters in Washington, D.C., on Friday that he is "clinically depressed" about the situation. He later backed off that term in talks with Alaska reporters, noting he has not been diagnosed by a psychiatrist and is not taking any medication. But he said he has asked his doctor about his doldrums, and was advised to take some time off.
Stevens also said he's wondering whether he should seek another term if he loses next week's vote on ANWR language in the budget resolution.
"I'm reviewing that, I really am," said Stevens, 81, who has served in the Senate since his appointment in 1968 and is the Senate's most senior Republican.
Many observers think ANWR drilling is closer to reality than ever. Republicans traditionally support ANWR drilling, and the party controls both houses of Congress and the White House.
The Senate Budget Committee last week approved ANWR language that would set up a legislative detour around the threat of filibusters. Republicans need only 50 votes next week to make it stick on the Senate floor.
The House has not included ANWR language in its budget resolution but is expected to approve legislation to allow drilling.
Stevens is aware of the positive signs, but says that "if we can't get it through in my lifetime, I don't think we'll see it again."
His concerns are based on a range of factors - changing standards of procedural decorum in the Senate, loss of support from some longtime colleagues, a sense that he can't trust others, and his regrets about not fighting Congress' 1980 decision to put ANWR's coastal plain in legislative limbo.
Stevens said he finds it offensive that Congress must place ANWR revenue expectations in the annual budget resolution as a way around filibusters.
Traditionally, he said, filibusters were used to slow the process so people had time to understand the details before voting. It takes 60 votes to stop a filibuster, as opposed to the traditional 51 to pass legislation.
Filibusters were never used on matters of national security, he said.
"It is appalling to me ... that people don't realize the real critical nature of oil in terms of security. The Department of Defense is the largest user of oil. We have no alternative supply," Stevens said.
The full Senate probably will vote next week on a Democratic amendment to the budget resolution that would strike the ANWR language, which calls for $5 billion in revenue from lease sales through 2010.
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