House, Senate to vote on pipeline bill
Washington – — Long-stalled legislation to build the Keystone XL pipeline got new life on Wednesday after Senate Democrats suddenly abandoned efforts to block the measure in hopes of helping endangered Sen. Mary Landrieu keep her seat in energy-rich Louisiana.
Republicans responded swiftly to Landrieu’s maneuvering, scheduling a vote in the House on Thursday on an identical bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Cassidy, Landrieu’s Republican rival in a Dec. 6 runoff.
It was unclear what impact the votes would have on the Senate race, but Senate passage of the bill as early as next Tuesday would force President Barack Obama to either sign it into law or veto the measure just weeks after a Democratic drubbing in midterm elections.
Republicans and several moderate Democrats insist that construction of the Canada-to-Texas pipeline would create tens of thousands of jobs. Environmentalists maintain that the project would have a negative impact and contribute to climate change.
The White House had no immediate comment on the day’s developments.
“I believe that we should take the new majority leader at his word and stop blocking legislation that is broadly supported by the American public and has been for quite some time,” Landrieu said in a speech on the Senate floor. “I want to say yes to majority leader — new majority leader Mitch McConnell. The time to start is now.”
Landrieu cast herself as an independent willing to challenge Democrats and Republicans, hoping to shake up her Senate race.
“I’ve stood against my leadership,” she told reporters.
The back-and-forth came against the backdrop of a new political landscape and fresh calls for an end to Washington gridlock. Republicans rolled in midterm elections, seizing majority control of the Senate with a net gain of eight seats. A GOP victory in Louisiana would make it nine and Cassidy is heavily favored.
Come January, Republicans could have a 54-46 majority in the Senate if Cassidy wins, controlling the chamber and legislation for the first time in eight years.
McConnell said the election of a Republican Senate majority has already changed the dynamic.
“I hope this post-election conversion on Keystone signals Democrat cooperation on a whole host of other energy bills they have blocked, and whose passage would help to make America more energy-independent,” he said in a statement.
Echoing Landrieu’s plea for a vote were moderate Democrats from Republican states, who argued that the project that would carry oil from Canada south to the Gulf Coast. The southern leg of the pipeline between Oklahoma and Texas is already operational.
The Republican sponsor of the bill, Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, said the measure has the support of all 45 Republicans and 11 Democrats. It will be incumbent upon Landrieu to persuade four more Democrats to back the measure to reach the 60-vote threshold.