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 ReidGOP frustrated by slow pace of Trump staffing This week: Congress awaits Comey testimony Will Republicans grow a spine and restore democracy? 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 HoevenRepublicans go to battle over pre-existing conditions Overnight Healthcare: Divisions emerge in Senate over preexisting conditions GOP senators meet with insurer for input on ObamaCare repeal 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 BaucusLawmakers: Leave advertising tax break alone GOP: FBI firing won't slow agenda White House tax-reform push is ‘game changer,’ says ex-chairman 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 ThuneCongress must address student loan debt crisis, a national economic drag Republicans go to battle over pre-existing conditions GOP frustrated by slow pace of Trump staffing MORE (R-S.D.) and Mark KirkMark KirkTaking the easy layup: Why brain cancer patients depend on it The Mideast-focused Senate letter we need to see The way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump 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 RockefellerJay RockefellerObama to preserve torture report in presidential papers Lobbying world Overnight Tech: Senators place holds on FCC commissioner 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.