Keystone looms as Senate takes up Shaheen energy bill
The impassioned debate over the Keystone XL pipeline could reach a tipping point this week on Capitol Hill as Congress gets what is likely to be its last chance to consider the issue until after the November midterm elections. The outcome could complicate matters for the Obama administration, which is still reviewing whether to allow permits for sections of the pipeline.
The Senate is set to begin debate on a modest energy bill, co-written by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, that has enough bipartisan support to pass on its own merits, but supporters of the pipeline, intended to transport oil from western Canada to the Gulf Coast, are trying to leverage the bill to force votes on Keystone. The issue has prompted a multimillion- dollar lobbying campaign on both sides; hardly a half-hour goes by on cable news without one side or the other pushing its position on the matter.
A handful of Democrats facing tough reelections are supportive of the pipeline. That has led Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, to engage in sensitive negotiations over the parliamentary process for how amendments to the bill – drafted by Shaheen and Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio – will be considered.
GOP leaders have pushed to get an amendment on the bill that would allow them to simply mandate the construction of the pipeline, overriding the ongoing review by the State Department as it considers how to handle 2.5 million public comments on the proposal and an ongoing lawsuit in Nebraska trying to alter the route.
Reid offered Republicans a separate vote on a bill that would be a clean Keystone vote, nothing else, requiring 60 votes to overcome the filibuster of liberal senators opposed to the proposal. “The key then is getting 60 votes,” told reporters Thursday.
By the end of the week, Sen. John Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota and the co-sponsor with Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana, of the Keystone amendment, said he had not secured 60 votes, to some degree because of the confusion surrounding whether it would be part of the Shaheen-Portman bill or a freestanding vote. Some Democrats who have previously supported the bill have been hesitant to support a Keystone amendment, out of fear that President Obama would veto the entire package because of the controversial measure, torpedoing the underlying energy legislation.