Washington — The bill to green-light the Keystone XL pipeline died in Congress on Wednesday when the Senate failed to override President Barack Obama’s veto of the legislation.
The outcome was expected, as the legislation was approved in the U.S. Senate earlier this year on a 62-36 vote, which was five shy of the two-thirds majority needed for an override. The vote Wednesday was 62-37 for the bill. The Senate’s 54 Republicans, including Bill Cassidy and David Vitter from Louisiana, were joined by eight Democrats in voting for the $8 billion pipeline. The 37 votes to sustain the veto all came from Democrats.
Republicans could seek to revive the issue by attaching a pro-Keystone amendment to a measure Obama would find difficult to veto, such as legislation financing highways and other transportation projects.
In a statement released after the vote, Vitter said the Keystone fight is not over. “Keystone obviously has wide bipartisan support across the country, yet President Obama and Senate Democrats have put their political agenda ahead of bipartisan compromise, job creation, and energy independence out of sheer political spite,” the statement said.
The pipeline, proposed six years ago to bring oil from the tar sands of Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, has long served as a flash point between environmentalists and energy-industry boosters. Supporters of the project say it would create jobs and reduce American dependence on oil imported from unfriendly and unstable foreign countries outside North America. Opponents fear it would result in oil spills and increased carbon emissions from the burning of the “dirty” tar-sands oil.
The project has been stalled by Obama, a Democrat whose agreement is required because the pipeline crosses an international border. He has said he wants to wait for completion of a State Department review before deciding on the project, although he has said he doesn’t think it will provide a lot of benefit for the United States. The Keystone bill would have compelled approval of the pipeline.
The bill originated in the Senate, so the first override attempt took place there, and its failure ends action on that legislation. After the Senate approved the bill in January, the House voted 270-192 for the measure to send it to the White House. That was 20 short of a two-thirds majority in the House.
The veto was just the third from Obama in his six years in the White House. But more can be expected, as the 2014 elections, which gave control of the Senate to the Republicans, put both Houses of Congress in Republican hands for the first time in Obama’s term.
The U.S. House, under Republican control since 2010, has repeatedly approved pro-pipeline bills. But in past years, they died in the Democratic-majority Senate. The project is estimated to create 42,000 temporary construction jobs, and 35-50 permanent jobs. The unfinished part of the pipeline is its northern leg, from Nebraska into Canada, and a third of the construction jobs would be along that route. No part of the pipeline crosses Louisiana.
Fluctuating oil prices could play a role in whether the pipeline is built, even if it ultimately gets the blessing of the White House. Low prices threaten the economic viability of the project.
The fight over Keystone figured prominently in the 2014 U.S. Senate race in Louisiana, although the pipeline will have little direct impact in the state and was supported by both candidates who met in the Dec. 6 runoff: Three-term incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu and Cassidy, who then served in the House. Cassidy defeated Landrieu, and his win contributed to the current 54-46 Republican edge in the Senate.
In her campaign against Cassidy, Landrieu touted the influence she had gained in the Senate by virtue of her seniority — in particular, her appointment early last year as chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, with its oversight of the oil and gas industry central to the Louisiana economy. Landrieu is a longtime friend of the industry.
After taking over as chairwoman, Landrieu pushed a Keystone bill through the committee. But then-Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, did not move to schedule a floor vote on the bill. Cassidy argued Landrieu’s clout was meaningless so long as Democrats controlled the Senate.
After narrowly leading Cassidy in the Nov. 4 open primary in Louisiana, Landrieu successfully pushed for a floor vote on the bill in evident hopes of burnishing her record for the Dec. 6 runoff, which polls showed she was likely to lose. But she fell one vote short of the 60 needed in the Senate to approve the measure.
As Landrieu moved to bring a Keystone bill to the Senate floor, the House fast-tracked a similar measure by Cassidy and passed it. That bill died with the end of the 2013-14 Congress.
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