GOP boosts pipeline pressure on Senate

Republican lawmakers are planning a mix of public pressure and member-to-member schmoozing to build traction for including the Keystone XL oil pipeline in a final transportation programs bill.

The House-approved transportation programs bill authorizes construction of the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline. The Senate's plan omits the measure, but GOP senators want it included in a compromise package and will make the case in upcoming bicameral talks.

Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), in a statement Wednesday evening, ripped Democrats for “obstruction,” citing Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems search for winning playbook Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response The Memo: Immigration battle tests activists’ muscle MORE’s (D-Nev.) stance against including the pipeline in the bill.

“Every day that President Obama and Senate Democrat leaders continue their blockade of Keystone XL is another day of unemployment for thousands of construction and manufacturing workers and another day of delay in bolstering U.S. energy security with oil from a friendly neighbor,” he said.

Lugar and other Republicans are claiming that the majority Senate vote last month for including the pipeline in the highway bill makes their case — even though they fell short of the 60 votes needed.

The Indiana Republican, a key backer of the project, also plans to make the case in discussions with the Democratic members appointed to the House-Senate conference committee.

The negotiators will try and hash out a final bill in the coming weeks as the June 30 expiration of the current transportation authorization looms.

Lugar isn't on the conference committee. Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenGOP anxious with Trump on trade GOP lawmakers to Trump: Don't fire Mueller Government needs to help small businesses follow regulations MORE (R-N.D.), one of the six Senate GOP negotiators, told reporters Wednesday evening that he’s planning to push the issue in talks.

But Republicans are facing an uphill battle heading into the negotiations.

Of the eight Senate Democrats on the conference committee, only Sen. Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusSteady American leadership is key to success with China and Korea Orrin Hatch, ‘a tough old bird,’ got a lot done in the Senate Canada crossing fine line between fair and unfair trade MORE (D-Mont.) has voted to mandate a permit for the Alberta-to-Texas line, and the Montana senator has signaled he won’t demand Keystone language in the final bill. Even if he did demand its inclusion, Republicans would need to find another Democrat to prevent a 7-7 deadlock.

Hoeven hopes to change some minds. “Senator Baucus is certainly supportive of the project. Obviously we will talk to the other conferees and see if we can get one more,” he told reporters in the Capitol Wednesday evening.

The Senate, in March, rejected Hoeven’s Keystone authorizing amendment when the upper chamber crafted its transportation bill.

The vote was 56-42 in favor of the pipeline when 60 were needed, but Hoeven sees a floor of 58 supporters because Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneWeek ahead: Tech giants to testify on extremist content Overnight Tech: GOP senator presses Apple over phone slowdowns | YouTube cancels projects with Logan Paul after suicide video | CEOs push for DACA fix | Bill would punish credit agencies for breaches GOP senator presses Apple on phone slowdowns MORE (R-S.D.) and Mark KirkMark KirkHigh stakes as Trump heads to Hill Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns MORE (R-Ill.) were absent from the vote.

“I will continue to talk to other senators too,” Hoeven said Wednesday. “I may be able to go to the conference committee and say there are 60 [senators] that support it.”

But Sen. Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerOvernight Tech: Trump nominates Dem to FCC | Facebook pulls suspected baseball gunman's pages | Uber board member resigns after sexist comment Trump nominates former FCC Dem for another term Obama to preserve torture report in presidential papers MORE (D-W.Va.), who is one of the Democratic conferees, predicted that his side won’t provide votes in favor of Keystone.

“I think we are going to be a pretty close group on it,” he said of the Senate Democratic negotiators.

Across the Capitol, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) immediately vowed to prioritize Keystone in upcoming conference talks after being appointed to the House negotiating team Wednesday.

President Obama has threatened to veto the House transportation measure over inclusion of the pipeline, which the White House contends needs more federal review before a cross-border permit can be granted.

The administration in January rejected a permit for the project to bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries. The White House stressed, however, that its decision was not on the “merits” but instead because Republicans had demanded an “arbitrary” permit deadline in a late 2011 payroll tax cut bill.

The administration has invited TransCanada to reapply for the cross-border permit, which the company said it intends to do.

Environmentalists bitterly oppose Keystone due to greenhouse gas emissions from extracting and burning oil sands, water pollution and forest damage from the massive projects, and fears of spills along the pipeline route.