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Republicans Want Keystone XL Now; Obama Says No

Republicans are pushing for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline now, rather than after the election; Obama is flat-out refusing, sticking with his original plan to postpone the decision pending further study

WASHINGTON—Despite strong objections from American Indians and environmentalists, the Republican leadership is pressing for the immediate development of the Keystone XL pipeline.

GOP leaders on December 9 attached pipeline provisions to a popular payroll tax cut extension bill that would force a decision on the pipeline within 60 days, rather than upholding the administration's postponement of the proposal for a 1,700-mile pipeline from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico. House Speaker John Boehner has led the charge.

“We are working on a bill to stop a tax hike, protect Social Security, reform unemployment insurance and create jobs,” said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck in a statement. “If President Obama threatens to veto it over a provision that creates American jobs, that’s a fight we’re ready to have.”

The plan has prompted stern warnings from President Barack Obama.

“Any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll tax cut, I will reject,” Obama 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.”

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.

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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.

Proponents of the 1,700-mile pipeline say it would provide a boon to the American economy in terms of jobs creation and oil independence.

Earlier on December 7, Obama met with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper—a strong proponent of the pipeline, which originates in his country. At the news conference, Obama said he had told Harper during their meeting that “it is important to make sure all questions regarding the project are understood, especially the impact on the health and safety of the American people.”

Boehner, meanwhile, used Harper’s visit to highlight his pro-Keystone argument.

“Prime Minister Harper has made clear that if this project is not approved, American competitors such as China will gain from our loss,” the GOP leader said in a statement. “This project is good for the economy, and it’s good for America’s energy security…. It is my hope that the President will use today’s meeting with the Prime Minister to announce the project’s approval. If he doesn’t, the House is prepared to act to accelerate the approval so that we can put tens of thousands of Americans back to work.”

The Senate chimed in as well.

“It’s my hope that the Prime Minister convinces President Obama to reverse his recent decision to delay the Keystone XL Pipeline,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed in a statement. “The President has said repeatedly that jobs are his top priority, says he wakes up every morning thinking about how he can create jobs. Yet here’s the single greatest shovel-ready project in America, ready to go, and for some reason he’s suddenly not interested.”