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Highway Vote Keeps Keystone Fight Alive in Senate

WASHINGTON – The delayed $7 billion Keystone XL oil pipeline project has new life after Democrats failed to end debate on a major transportation bill. Senate Republicans are pushing for approval of the project in spite of President Obama’s rejection of the TransCanada Corp’s project.

The Senate failed to move to remove a proposed Republican amendment to authorize construction of the Canada-to-Texas pipeline. Fifty-two senators, most Democrats, voted to move the $160 billion highway bill forward minus the amendment but fell eight votes short of the 60 required to end debate.

In his last press conference, President Obama told reporters his re-election was essential to solving the nation’s energy cost crisis. But with gas prices rising for the most consecutive months in history, many in this country see a far different picture than that painted by the president.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has a long history of stifling bills in committee, but this is one bill his party desperately wants. He must now negotiate with Republicans for a stand-alone vote on the controversial project. His problem is that the bill has dozens of other amendments, from clear air to extension of green energy-related tax breaks, championed by the president and his party.

“I don’t know why everything we do has to be a fight. Not a disagreement, a fight,” Reid said before the vote.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, speaking before the vote, argued to keep debate open and said that a deal on amendments including the Keystone project was near. Republican’s determination to hold the line on Keystone leaves Reid and the Senate Democrat leadership with no choice but to negotiate.

A few Democrats support the project. But with 47 Republicans in the Senate, at least 13 Democrats must agree for it to move forward. After three years of evaluation, the Obama administration refused to approve the project saying it needed more time to evaluate the environmental impact of the pipeline’s route through Nebraska.

The Senate amendment that requires Obama’s signature to become law would bypass Obama and see Congress approve the project. A study by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said Congress has the constitutional right to legislate permits for cross-border pipelines.

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has passed an energy bill that would appoint an independent energy regulator to give the project a permit. Obama has threatened to veto that bill because of the Keystone measure, as well as other provisions that would expand oil drilling in sensitive areas.

The $109 billion Senate transport bill would fund highway and mass-transit construction projects for two years. The current legislation ends March 31, and if no action is taken by then, road project funding and collection of federal gasoline taxes would be halted.

Canada, a friendly neighbor to the north, wants to transport oil to American refineries. Pipelines have proven to be the safest method to transport oil over the last 40 years. Every state between Canada and Texas would profit from the construction.

In a time with increasing tension in the Middle East and escalating oil prices, the president continues to play politics with what should be a common sense decision.

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