Democrats: Concession to GOP on Keystone will force Obama to kill pipeline

Senate Democrats say the Obama administration will kill the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, a controversial issue in the debate to extend the payroll tax holiday.

Senate leaders on Friday agreed to a two-month backstop measure to extend payroll tax relief, which included House-passed language to expedite a decision on the pipeline's construction. The Senate will vote on the measure Saturday morning.

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Republicans hailed inclusion of the pipeline provision as a victory, but Democrats said the practical effect of the language would be to kill the project.

“They’ve just killed the Keystone pipeline. They killed it because they forced the president to make a decision before he can make it so he’s not going to move forward with it,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and an ally of environmental groups.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he was not concerned about giving in to Republicans on the Keystone provision.

“The president is apparently just going to use the option given to him not to let it go [forward],” said Levin. “There’s a waiver in there which we understand the president is going to exercise.”


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A senior Obama administration official noted that the president said he would not accept an attempt by Congress to mandate construction before adequate review of health and safety regulations.

The officials said the House-passed Keystone language merely speeds up the decision process but does not determine whether the project would be approved.

Officials at the State Department, which has authority over approving the project, said they would not be able to conduct the necessary review if given only 60 days, the timeline set by House Republicans.

A spokesman for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Democrats are trying to spin the outcome of the payroll tax relief talks in the best possible light.

“If it was not such a big deal, why did they fight so hard to keep the language out of the bill,” said the aide. “Take it with a grain of salt.”

Amie Parnes contributed to this report.