Supporters of the measure apparently lack the votes to overturn the veto. An override would require a two-thirds majority in both the U.S. Senate and the House.
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 flashpoint between environmentalists and energy-industry boosters. Supporters of the $8 billion 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, which passed Congress earlier this month, would compel approval of the pipeline.
Any attempt to override the veto would take place first in the Senate, because the bill originated there. Should the override fail, the legislation would die. The Senate’s 62-36 vote for the bill is five shy of a two-thirds majority. The 270-192 vote for the bill in the House was 20 short of the number needed to override a veto.
All members of Congress from Louisiana voted for the bill. The only Democrat among them, Rep. Cedric Richmond, of New Orleans, was one of 29 Democrats to support it in the House. All of the “no” votes in both houses came from Democrats, except for one from a House Republican.
“Vetoing this legislation is just sheer political spite,” U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said in a statement. “President Obama has proven that he puts his political agenda ahead of bipartisan compromise, job creation, and energy independence.”
If an override attempt fails, Republicans could attempt to add a pro-Keystone provision to a different measure that would otherwise gain Obama’s support.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, of Jefferson, said. “The American people deserve better than this from the president, who bowed to the demands of a small group of environmental extremists rather than standing with hard-working taxpayers.”
Rep. Charles Boustany, of Lafayette, said: “The American people want this project built. The president is the only obstacle remaining in the way of making this project’s completion a reality.”
The veto is 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 to 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 justification for 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 Republican Bill 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.
Follow Gregory Roberts on Twitter @GregRobertsDC. For more coverage of government and politics, follow The Advocate Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.