WASHINGTON – The Republican U.S. House of Representatives late on December 13 made good on its threat to attach a provision that could force a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline earlier than President Barack Obama has intended.
House leaders attached the provision to separate payroll tax legislation, despite warnings from the Democratic U.S. Senate that it would not act on the bill—and despite threats from Obama that he would veto such legislation if it did make it to his desk.
The bill passed 234-193, largely along party lines. Ten Democrats joined 224 Republicans voting for the legislation; 14 Republicans joined 179 Democrats in voting against it.
GOP leaders say the pipeline should be built as soon as possible in order to spur the American economy. Their provision calls for a decision within 60 days.
The Obama administration decided last month to delay approval of the pipeline after vast protests from Indians and others who said the project would harm public health as well as endanger tribal culture and lands. Tribes have also expressed concern over lack of consultation.
The delay is expected to last until after the presidential election next year, which has raised political warning flags on all sides of the issue.
Native Americans who have protested the pipeline say it will harm their cultures and health. Some have said tribal consultation has been lacking on the $7 billion plan, which would place a 1,700-mile pipeline through the heart of America and Indian country. The plan, led by Canada’s TransCanada Corporation has already proven of harm to Natives in that country, in terms of negative sovereignty and health impacts.
The White House has said it is irresponsible of Republicans to pass such a bill. "This Congress needs to do its job and stop the tax hike that's scheduled to affect 160 million Americans in 18 days," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement after the vote. "This is not a time for Washington Republicans to score political points against the president."
Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, have said that Congress should not go home for the holidays without extending the payroll tax cut. Carney said that the tax cut saves working Americans an average of $1,000 a year.
Republicans have agreed that the payroll tax cut is something they can live with, but they want Keystone XL, too.
Reid and other Democrats have tended to side with environmentalists and American Indians, saying that the pipeline project requires more study and should not be fast-tracked as part of a GOP political game.
Reid specifically said that Republicans must compromise with Democrats instead of trying to push through proposals intended to make conservatives happy. "Speaker [John] Boehner had to add ideological candy coating to his bill to get rebellious, rank-and-file Republicans on board," the Senate leader told reporters. "They are wasting time catering to the tea party when they should be working with Democrats on a bipartisan package that can pass both houses."
Earlier in the week, State Department officials indicated that the GOP plan would make it impossible for the agency to complete the necessary environmental, national security, and safety studies. "In the absence of properly completing the process, the department would be unable to make a determination to issue a permit for this project," the State Department offered via statement.
Boehner noted in retaliation that the pipeline has already been under review for years: "The only thing arbitrary about this decision is the decision by the president to say, 'Well, let's wait until after the next election,'" Boehner said. "The American people want jobs, and this is as close to a shovel-ready project as you're ever going to see."
Obama has indicated that he is standing firm. “Any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll tax cut, I will reject,” the president said at a December 7 news conference. “Everybody should be on notice. The reason is because the payroll tax cut is something House Republicans and Senate Republicans should want to do regardless of any other issues.”
The tax cut “shouldn’t be held hostage to any other issues they may be concerned about,” Obama added. “My warning is not just related to Keystone. Efforts to tie a bunch of other issues to something they should do anyway will be rejected—by me.”