Editor's Blog

What’s up with the Keystone XL language in the Senate payroll tax cut bill?

(Note: I feel like I should explain why such long periods elapse between blog posts, but it’s a long story, and maybe I’ll tell it later.)

Put aside the recent absurd, backward posturing by House Republicans for a moment, and let’s assume President Obama were to sign the payroll tax cut compromise the Senate passed late last week. What are the implications for the Keystone XL decision? After all, Senate Republicans made a big deal about including language in the bill that reportedly would force a State Department decision on the proposed $7 billion project within 60 days. At first glance, especially given the President’s Dec 7 threat to reject “any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll tax cut,” Obama’s immediate endorsement of the Senate bill was confusing. Isn’t he allowing his hand to be forced?

Congressional Republicans may want people to believe this, but, as unnamed administration officials told Sam Stein at Huffington Post, it’s not that simple.

Rewind to December 12. That’s when the State Department stepped in, warning Congress that setting an “arbitrary deadline” would compromise the department’s ability to comply with federal environmental law. In other words, it can’t legally issue a permit within the timeframe Republicans are demanding, and thus would probably have to kill the project if forced to decide within 60 days. This obviously eases the pressure on Obama, which was why he was so eager to throw his weight behind the bill, Keystone provision and all. It ”does not make (Obama) do a single thing,” another official told Stein. “All they did was shorten the review process.”

-- Mike Orcutt

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