WASHINGTON (AP) - Sensing a political opening, congressional
Republicans are moving toward a high-stakes showdown with President
Barack Obama over a plan to link fast-tracked approval of an oil
pipeline to a measure renewing a payroll tax cut.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the proposed
Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas will help the president
achieve his top priority - creating jobs - without costing a dime
of taxpayer money.
"There is no reason this legislation shouldn't have the
president's enthusiastic support," McConnell said Monday on the
Senate floor. "The only reason for Democrats to oppose this
job-creating bill would be to gain some political advantage at a
time when every one of them says job creation is a top priority."
The State Department said last month it was postponing a
decision on the pipeline until after next year's election.
Officials said the delay is needed to study routes that avoid
environmentally sensitive areas of Nebraska.
The GOP language would require approval of the pipeline within
two months unless Obama declares it is not in the national
The project's developer, Calgary-based TransCanada, says the
pipeline could create as many as 20,000 jobs, including 13,000
during construction and 7,000 manufacturing jobs.
Opponents call those figures wildly inflated and say the project
could create as few as 2,500 construction job and fewer than 1,000
permanent jobs. The State Department, in an analysis released this
summer, said the pipeline would create up to 6,000 jobs during
construction, including Keystone employees, contractors and
construction and environmental inspection staff.
The State Department has authority over the project because it
crosses an international border.
President Barack Obama said Tuesday he would veto the bill if it
includes the Keystone provision.
The administration warned Monday that congressional interference
in the approval process would likely lead to a rejection of the
"Should Congress impose an arbitrary deadline for the permit
decision, its actions would not only compromise the process, it
would prohibit the department from acting consistently with
National Environmental Policy Act requirements by not allowing
sufficient time" for the project to be considered, the State
Department said in a statement.
In that case, "the department would be unable to make a
determination to issue a permit for this project," the statement
McConnell and other Republicans dismiss such procedural
"The only thing arbitrary about this decision is the decision
by the president to say, `Well, let's wait until after the next
election,"' said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Boehner and other Republicans say many Democrats support the
pipeline, noting that 47 House Democrats voted in a favor a bill
this summer to speed up the permitting process. GOP lawmakers say
the White House opposes the pipeline provision in the tax bill so
Democrats can gain political advantage by blaming Republicans for
defeating the popular payroll tax cut. The tax bill is expected on
the House floor Tuesday.
The two parties generally agree on the bill's fundamentals:
preventing the Jan. 1 expiration of payroll tax cuts and extending
coverage for the long-term unemployed. Obama has said he will
reject the overall bill if it includes language speeding up
approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from
western Canada to refineries in Texas.
Obama's veto threat has increased conservative support for the
overall measure, with Republicans hoping to use Obama's opposition
to portray him as favoring environmentalists over jobs.
Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., called the Keystone XL project crucial
to getting thousands of people back to work.
"This is an important jobs and energy security bill which just
makes plain sense," said Terry. "The American people want us to
stop buying Venezuelan oil. The Keystone pipeline is a key
component to making that happen."
Environmental groups, who celebrated the administration's
announcement of a delay in the Keystone project last month, accused
Republicans of forcing a premature judgment on the pipeline in
order to curry favor with the oil industry.
"To get their way, House Republicans - with some support in the
Senate - are even willing to block the much-needed extension of the
middle-class tax cut," said Suzanne Struglinski of the Natural
Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.
Struglinski called the pipeline push a "fool's errand" because
of Obama's threat to reject the measure, and said its likely
inclusion in the House bill showed that House leaders have embraced
the "extreme agenda" pushed by the tea party.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said last week that
House leaders were wasting time, because the Keystone provision
will not pass the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The State Department decided last month to delay the project
until 2013, to allow the project's developer to figure out a way
around Nebraska's Sandhills, an ecologically sensitive region that
includes an aquifer that supplies water to eight states.