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Keystone pipeline backers split on GOP's debt-ceiling maneuver

Keystone XL pipeline supporters are divided over a high-stakes House GOP plan to require approval of the project in legislation to raise the debt ceiling.

Several Senate Republicans on Thursday backed the House GOP’s effort. But Sen. Mark BegichMark Peter BegichAlaska Senate race sees cash surge in final stretch Alaska group backing independent candidate appears linked to Democrats Sullivan wins Alaska Senate GOP primary MORE (D-Alaska), a pro-Keystone Democrat, told reporters the topics shouldn’t be linked.

“On debt ceiling ... keep it clean, simple, be done with it,” Begich told reporters after a Capitol Hill press conference with pro-Keystone lawmakers from both parties. “It is the economics of this country we are playing with and I want to keep it simple.”

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He said a separate Keystone measure should come to the floor. “I just think Keystone, if we just get it on the floor, we’ll pass it. There’s plenty of votes to do it on this side,” Begich said.

A pro-Keystone labor leader also declined to support tethering Keystone’s approval to the debt-ceiling bill.

“I don’t believe we should be playing politics with our debt ceiling with this particular issue,” Sean McGarvey, president of the North America's Building Trades Unions, told reporters.

He said Keystone would be the “safest pipeline ever devised by man” and that it “stands on its own merits.”

“We don’t think it should be tied up on partisan politics,” he told reporters.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce strongly backs Keystone.

But this week the Chamber, in a letter to the House Wednesday, urged lawmakers to avoid tying the debt ceiling to battles over ObamaCare, tax reform, entitlement spending and other issues. The letter does not mention Keystone specifically.

Karen Harbert, a top Chamber energy official, on Thursday didn’t flatly oppose putting Keystone in the debt bill when asked about the House plan, but suggested they should be kept separate.

“We have already sent a letter to the entire House saying we can’t default on our payments. We need to get this done. At the same time we can walk and chew gum at the same time up here, and we have called for very many long years to get this pipeline approved,” said Harbert, president of the Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy.

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampMajor unions back Fudge for Agriculture secretary Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' in new administration MORE (D-N.D.), who supports Keystone, declined to take a position on linking approval to the debt ceiling. “This is all in negotiation,” she told reporters. “I think we are waiting to see what happens.”