For the ninth time, the Republican-controlled House voted today to bypass the White House and authorize construction of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline project – this time by a vote of 252 to 162.
Unlike previous episodes where Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada simply consigned the legislation to a black hole, the bill has been guaranteed a hearing and vote on the Senate floor next week. And this time Democrats and Republicans will work together to try to reach the 60-vote super majority threshold to pass the legislation and send it on to President Obama.
The extraordinary alacrity with which the two bodies are treating the legislation in the early days of the lame duck session has less to do with serious debate over energy and environmental policies than political gamesmanship surrounding the last remnant of the 2014 mid-term election.
With a Dec. 6 runoff election looming to decide the final Senate race of the season, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and her Republican challenger, Rep. Bill Cassidy, are scurrying to show Louisiana voters how hard they are working on behalf of the pipeline project important to their states’ energy industry.
Both House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) are doing everything they can to accommodate Cassidy and Landrieu and help them win the runoff – even as Obama threatens to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
Republicans so far have picked up eight Senate seats previously held by Democrats, including one in Alaska that was called by the Associated Press on Tuesday. The Louisiana race is going to a runoff because neither Landrieu nor Cassidy won a majority of votes in the general election. If Cassidy prevails, as many analysts predicting, then the Republicans will hold a 54 to 46 seat majority in the Senate heading into the next Congress.
Cassidy, the chief sponsor of the bill in the House, was front and center Friday morning in leading the debate in support of the legislation. “I particularly want to thank the American people for sending a signal in this last election that they want those of us in Washington, D.C. to work together to accomplish common-sense legislation that will not only create jobs for families who are struggling now – but because of legislation like this will have more opportunities and a better future.”
Asked during a press conference in Myanmar about the pending Keystone legislation, Obama said that he is standing by his policy of allowing an evaluation of the project to be completed before he makes a decision. In strong terms, he took exception to the Republicans’ claims that the pipeline would be a massive jobs bill for the U.S.
“Understand what this project is,” he said. “It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else. It doesn't have an impact on U.S. gas prices…. If my Republican friends really want to focus on what's good for the American people in terms of job creation and lower energy costs, we should be engaging in a conversation about what are we doing to produce even more homegrown energy. I'm happy to have that conversation.”
For years, Republicans and the Obama administration have tangled over the pipeline project, with the GOP calling it a boon to the U.S. economy and an important step towards more energy production, while many Democrats and environmentalists say it would threatened the environment without producing many permanent jobs in this country.
Last February, the pipeline project cleared another major hurdle when the State Department released a report that found the proposed 875-mile pipeline between Alberta, Canada and U.S. refineries along the Gulf Coast probably would not alter global green-house gas emissions. It did, however, rekindle a long-simmering dispute over the potential economic benefit of the $54 billion TransCanada project to the U.S. economy.
The petroleum industry, labor groups and many Republican and Democratic lawmakers who favor the Pipeline insist it would generate tens of thousands of well-paying jobs while pumping billions of dollars into a still struggling U.S. economy.
American Petroleum Institute officials say approval of the full pipeline could “support 42,000 jobs” and “put $2 billion in workers’ pockets during its construction.” However, environmental groups that have battled the project for the past five years say the economic benefit has been vastly overblown, and that once the pipeline is built, there would be fewer than 50 permanent jobs connected with the pipeline in the U.S. and Canada.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) belittled the bill during floor debate. “This bill is not an energy policy, it is about a single pipeline that will allow Canadian tar sand to flow across our country for export to other countries,” he said. “That’s oil going through the United States, but not to the United States.”
“We don’t need this oil, we have our own sources of oil,” Waxman added. “And we use less oil because of our efficiencies in new cars getting better mileage. This bill will not lower gasoline prices by a single penny and it may raise them in some places. And it will at most create just a few dozen permanent jobs. There will be some temporary jobs for construction, but once they’re gone, they’re gone.”
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