Congress inched closer Friday to a showdown with President Barack Obama over the Keystone XL oil pipeline as the Republican-controlled House approved the project and supporters in the Democratic-run Senate predicted they would get the 60 votes needed to pass it next week.
The House vote was 252-161 in favor of the bill, which Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., sponsored as he seeks to boost his chances of claiming a Louisiana Senate seat from Democrat Mary Landrieu, a sponsor of the bill in the upper chamber. The two are headed for a Dec. 6 runoff vote and have been touting their energy credentials in the oil and gas-producing state.
Should the Senate send the bill to Obama for his signature, he would face a decision that pits some of his environmental concerns about the pipeline, mainly its consequences for global warming, against potentially helping a fellow Democrat making a longshot bid to retain her Senate seat.
The House bill had unanimous support from GOP lawmakers. Thirty-one Democrats backed the bill, while 161 rejected it.
The House bill is identical to the one introduced in the Senate by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Landrieu in May. In a call with reporters from Louisiana, where she was campaigning, Landrieu called herself the “sparkplug” to get the Keystone bill through Congress.
“This bill was drafted to go the distance,” she said.
As of Friday, supporters of the measure appeared to have at least 59 of the 60 Senate votes they would need for approva;. That included all 45 Republicans and 14 Democrats.
Landrieu conceded, though, that it is unlikely the Senate or House will muster the two-thirds majority needed to override an Obama veto of the bill. She said she did not know Obama’s plans.
“He most certainly understands my position,” Landrieu said. “He understands that there are 15-plus Democrats in the Senate that really want to build the Keystone pipeline.”
If the bill fails to pass the Senate, Hoeven said he will reintroduce it next year, when Republicans are in control the chamber. That would make it one of many showdowns expected with Obama over energy and environmental policy after Republicans assert their new majority in January.
The $8 billion pipeline has become a symbol for the divisions on the country’s energy and environmental policy. Environmentalists have framed the issue as a significant test of Obama’s commitment to address climate change, while Republicans and other supporters say it would be a boon for jobs and help ensure energy security because the U.S. would be importing oil from its neighbor, not the Middle East.
The project has been stalled for six years by environmental reviews, objections to the route it would take and politics. While the White House has issued veto threats on similar legislation, it had yet to formally do so Friday.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said it was time for Obama to listen to the American people, especially after Republican gains in last week’s midterm elections.
“The president doesn’t have any more elections to win, and he has no other excuse for standing in the way,” Boehner said.
Obama, questioned about the issue while traveling on the other side of the globe, said the administration’s long-stalled review of the project cannot be completed before knowing the outcome of a legal challenge to the pipeline’s route through Nebraska. He reiterated that he will ultimately judge the project on its impact on climate change and energy prices.
“I have to constantly push back against this idea that somehow the Keystone pipeline is either this massive jobs bill for the United States, or is somehow lowering gas prices,” Obama said. “Understand what this project is. 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. That doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices.”
The State Department said in a Jan. 31 report that the project would not significantly boost carbon emissions because the oil was likely to find its way to market by other means.
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