House advances Keystone bill in bipartisan vote

The vote followed a debate that allowed both sides to revisit all of their familiar arguments for and against the pipeline. Republicans cast the bill as one that creates jobs and helps boost energy supplies in the U.S., and one that President Obama has needlessly delayed for years.

"It creates American jobs, it increases our energy independence, it strengthens our national security and it will contribute to lower gas prices," Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) said.

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But Democrats rejected these arguments by saying it would have a minimal jobs impact, could help the export of tar sands oil from Canada, and would not have much of an impact on gas prices. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said the amount of oil flowing from Canada is too small to affect price.

"The disconnect here … is this quantity is a rounding error in the global supply and the global demand," he said. "This has no impact on price."

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) went further by saying the U.S. doesn't need the oil that could be collected from Canada. "We really don't need the oil," he said. "It is oil that will primarily be exported out of this country."

A longstanding argument from Republicans is that Obama is needlessly delaying the permit for supposed environmental reasons. Several Republicans, including Rep. Lee Terry (Neb.), said the project has been studied endlessly and that it is now time to approve it.

"This permit is five years old," Terry said. "The average time of authorizing the permits in these type of projects is 18 to 24 months.

"This delay has taken longer than it took the greatest generation to win World War II on both fronts."

TransCanada Corp's pipeline needs presidential approval to be built, but the bill to be voted on Thursday would deem that approval to be given. It would also consider all environmental studies done on the project as enough to warrant construction.

The southern leg of the pipeline, from Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast, has already been approved by Obama.

Some Democrats argued that aside from their opposition to Keystone, they also oppose the idea of having Congress remove the need for presidential approval of the project — some have said this change would violate the Constitution. But Republicans are likely to argue that the bill is on solid constitutional ground because Congress has the authority to regulate international commerce.

Approval of the rule sets up 90 minutes of debate on the bill, and consideration of 10 amendments. Debate and votes on amendments are expected today, and final passage of the bill will be on Thursday.