Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, center, led Democrats in beating back… (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated…)
Reporting from Washington — With gas prices becoming a high-octane campaign issue, the Democratic-led Senate beat back a Republican effort to advance the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline project.
Thursday’s vote to attach the project to a must-pass transportation bill failed 56 to 42, with 11 Democrats joining Republicans to support the measure. Sixty votes were needed for passage.
President Obama had called senators to urge a no vote.
"We hope that the Congress will ... not waste its time with ineffectual, sham legislation,’’ White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.
But the effort – along with a vote on a measure to expand offshore drilling that was also rejected — was designed to highlight differences between the two parties and provide fodder for the campaign trail in this year’s battle for control of the White House and the Senate.
"The president simply can’t claim to have a comprehensive approach to energy, because he doesn’t. And any time he says he does, the American people should remember one word: Keystone,’’ said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. No Republicans opposed the Keystone measure, but two did not vote.
Republicans are eager to showcase Obama’s decision to withhold approval of the Canada-to-Gulf-Coast pipeline as proof that the administration is not doing enough to generate jobs and increase energy supplies. But opponents of the project accuse supporters of exaggerating the number of jobs it would create and dispute that it would bring down gas prices.
Pump prices have moved center stage on Capitol Hill, with hearings and an almost daily barrage of GOP criticisms of the administration’s approach to energy policy.
The pipeline issue has divided core Democratic constituencies, with some labor unions backing the project as an opportunity to create jobs, but environmentalists warn the pipeline would expand the nation’s carbon footprint and create more pollution.
An alternative Democratic measure that would, among other things, have prohibited the export of oil transported in the pipeline and, according to its sponsor, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), put "teeth behind all of the debate that this energy is going to be for the America consumer,’’ also failed.
Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who led the floor debate on the Keystone amendment, argued that the Democratic alternative measure would have added "additional impediments" to the project.
The Keystone votes come as the Senate is on track to pass a $109-billion, two-year transportation bill next week. The legislation sets road, highway and transit priorities.
But the transportation bill’s fate is uncertain because House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has been unable to corral a majority for passage in the Republican-controlled House. Republicans are in disagreement over how big the bill should be and what it should include.
Boehner said Thursday that he plans to bring up the Senate bill "or something like it" after the House returns from a weeklong recess next week.
A Republican-led effort to open more of the coast to energy exploration was defeated, with 46 in favor and 52 against.
"We don’t need any more giveaways to Big Oil," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said in opposition to the measure, warning that opening the Atlantic and Pacific to new drilling would put tourism-dependent coastal economies at risk.
"You can’t drill your way out of this,’’ Boxer added.
Boxer, who as chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee helped write the transportation bill, has warned that attaching controversial measures to the transportation bill could jeopardize the measure, which supporters say would fund job-creating highway and mass transit projects.
Senators are seeking to attach their pet issues to the transportation bill, which could be one of the few measures to make it through Congress in an election year that has heightened partisan tensions.
One measure passed Thursday would steer 80% of the penalties paid by BP for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill to restoring coastal ecosystems and rebuilding local economies in the gulf. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) called the action "a huge step toward making sure any fines against BP end up in the local communities harmed by the company’s oil spill.’’
Original source: Senate rejects GOP attempt to advance Keystone XL