GOP wants Sen. Baucus to go rogue on Keystone XL oil sands pipeline

Republicans are pressing Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax BaucusHealthcare profiles in courage and cowardice OPINION | On Trump-Russia probe, don’t underestimate Sen. Chuck Grassley Lawmakers: Leave advertising tax break alone MORE (D-Mont.) to buck his leadership and use his authority in the payroll tax conference to green-light the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

Baucus has told business leaders in Montana that winning authorization for the transnational pipeline is one of his highest priorities for 2012.

Republicans say Baucus, as co-chairman of the payroll tax conference, has the power to include Keystone language in must-pass legislation and will pressure him to act.

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“The quickest and surest way to get the pipeline going is for the Democratic chairman of the conference committee to put it into a must-do piece of legislation, the payroll tax package,” said a senior Senate Republican aide.

Senate Democrats think Baucus will stick with the caucus and oppose the inclusion of language to force President Obama’s hand on Keystone but they acknowledge the senior Montana lawmaker could go rogue, as he has in the past. 

“Max Baucus has been around here longer than I have, and he is certainly a free agent,” Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidConservative Senate candidate calls on GOP to end filibuster Ex-Reid aide: McConnell's 'original sin' was casting ObamaCare as 'partisan, socialist takeover' GOP faces growing demographic nightmare in West MORE (D-Nev.) told reporters.

Some Senate Democrats have questioned Baucus’s reliability on caucus positions ever since he split with the Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) to support the 2001 Bush tax cuts.



Daschle angrily told Baucus that his colleagues would remember the deal with Republicans, which briefly earned him the nickname, “Max Baucus, the one-man caucus.”


Baucus has since redeemed himself in the eyes of many Democrats by taking the lead in defeating former President George W. Bush’s 2005 effort to privatize Social Security. Baucus has also helped lead Senate Democrats in fighting for healthcare reform and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. He supports letting the Bush-era tax rates for the nation’s highest income earners expire.

Reid this week noted that other Democrats support the Keystone pipeline, including Sen. Jon TesterJon TesterSenate heading for late night ahead of ObamaCare repeal showdown Overnight Healthcare: Four GOP senators threaten to block 'skinny' repeal | Healthcare groups blast skinny repeal | GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate MORE (D-Mont.), and expressed uncertainty about how the issue would be resolved in conference talks with the House.

“We'll just have to wait and see how that comes out,” Reid said.

A Baucus aide said the lawmaker would try to get the Keystone project started using whatever tools or legislative vehicles are at his disposal, including the payroll tax bill, available.

“Senator Baucus will be looking for every opportunity to get Keystone done, whether now or through any other appropriate vehicle,” said the aide.

Congress has until the beginning of March to authorize a yearlong extension of the payroll tax holiday. It is viewed as the most important legislation lawmakers must consider before the election.

Baucus has been a vocal proponent of the pipeline project at home.

“There is absolutely no reason we cannot start putting Montanans to work on the Keystone XL pipeline right away. We’ve done three-years of analysis and worked hard on strict environmental considerations – now it’s time to move forward on the jobs and energy security our nation deserves, and I’ll keep fighting tooth and nail until that happens,” Baucus said earlier this month, according to a Missoula radio station.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has stepped up pressure on Baucus.

“Sen. Baucus is in a uniquely powerful position and if Keystone is the priority that Jon Tester and other Democrats claim it is, then they have the ability to do something about it by inserting language to move it forward,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the GOP campaign committee.

Some Democrats say that Keystone is not as potent a political issue as Republicans claim and voice confidence Baucus will not defy Obama and the Democratic leadership by attaching Keystone language to the payroll tax deal.

“The president is pretty definitive on this,” said Sen. Ben CardinBen CardinBoth sides of the aisle agree — telemedicine is the future Republicans get agreement on Russia, North Korea sanctions Congress can send a powerful message by passing the Israel Anti-Boycott Act MORE (Md.), one of the conferees in the payroll tax negotiations with the House.

The Senate conferees include four Democrats and three Republicans. The defection of a single Democrat would allow Senate Republicans to dictate the Senate’s position on a particular issue in the talks.

The other conferees are Sens. Jack ReedJack ReedCollins apologizes for calling GOP rep 'so unattractive' on hot mic Overnight Finance: House votes to repeal arbitration rule | Yellen, Cohn on Trump's list for Fed chief | House passes Russia sanctions deal | GOP centrists push back on border wall funding Senate panel rejects Trump’s effort to slash transportation funding MORE (D-R.I.), Bob CaseyBob CaseyFamilies make emotional plea for diabetes research funding Dem leaders amp up calls for bipartisan ObamaCare fixes Let’s not roll back bipartisan progress on global food security MORE (D-Pa.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Mike CrapoMike CrapoDems grill Trump bank regulator nominees Overnight Regulation: House votes to repeal forced arbitration rule | Dems look to ban controversial pesticide | House panel wants to hear from tech CEOs on net neutrality Overnight Finance: House votes to repeal arbitration rule | Yellen, Cohn on Trump's list for Fed chief | House passes Russia sanctions deal | GOP centrists push back on border wall funding MORE (R-Idaho), and John BarrassoJohn BarrassoLive coverage: Senate begins debate on ObamaCare repeal What Trump can do to cripple ObamaCare Top Republican: Senate will vote to proceed to House healthcare bill MORE (R-Wyo.).

Republicans in both chambers have discussed legislation that would allow construction on Keystone to begin immediately.

Sen. John HoevenJohn HoevenMcCain absence adds to GOP agenda’s uncertainty McCain diagnosis looms over GOP healthcare talks This week: ObamaCare repeal faces latest setback in Senate MORE (R-N.D.) is drafting legislation to permit Keystone, citing a report by the Congressional Research Service that found Congress has power to authorize the pipeline.

The two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday Congress passed in December included a provision forcing the administration to make an expedited decision on Keystone.

Obama denied the permit to build the pipeline earlier this month and blamed Republicans for killing the project by rushing the process and not giving his administration enough time to assess the environmental impact.

"The rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment," President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaMcCain casts crucial vote to kill 'skinny' ObamaCare repeal Panetta on transgender ban: Trump should pay the military a visit White House declines to apologize to Boy Scouts MORE said in a statement.

This story has been updated at 4:40 p.m.