Congress is about to head into its Christmas Recess, and will soon be closed for business until January. When Congress returns, it will be the Republican-led 114th Congress calling the shots instead of the split 113th. I have a radical proposal for the Republicans of the new Congress: be gracious in victory, and stick a thumb in the eye of the White House in the process. You can do this by taking the high ground and doing more than paying lip service to the idea of bipartisan cooperation. Let’s get the final phase of the Keystone XL pipeline approved in 2015.
Now, I know that many people view the Keystone pipeline as a very partisan topic. Conservatives want the increased security of reducing our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, while liberals can’t stand the thought of anything to do with oil. What’s bipartisan about that?
Well, how about the minor detail that there are plenty of Democrats in favor of Keystone? Supporting Keystone just plain makes sense.
First off, Keystone makes good financial sense. It represents $5 billion in private investment in new infrastructure, something we sorely need. 9,000 jobs would be generated during the construction. The states through which Keystone moves will receive substantial revenue increases in both direct and indirect income.
Second, it represents increased security. In 1973, OPEC tried to hammer the U.S. with an oil embargo. This was possible because of American dependence on oil from the Middle East. Now, however, the U.S. is on track to be a net exporter by 2020. U.S. oil flows along with the Canadian Oil headed for Texas. By 2020, the United States will be a net exporter of oil, reducing European dependence on Russia and eliminating U.S. dependence on the Middle East. OPEC has refused to raise oil prices out of fear of cheap U.S. oil, and China could soon find the trade imbalance with the U.S. flipped thanks to its need for oil.
It’s even the safest solution environmentally, something that Democrats appreciate. Shipping oil by rail or truck is costly and dangerous. Accidents are common and highly destructive. One need only look at the incidents of Casselton, N.D., or Quebec to see the hazards. Pipelines were 33 times less likely to have an incident than rail, and 37 times less likely to see injuries. As for shipping by sea, even aside from how it means the Middle East can mess with our economy, oil from the Arabian Peninsula is just one trigger-happy pirate away from a supertanker blowing sky high and dumping 3 million barrels of oil onto the coast of Somalia.
Smart money is with Keystone XL, and so are smart legislators, Republican and Democrat alike. Want further proof it’s where the smart money is? Texas and Nebraska, both states that stand to lose if Keystone’s pipes break, have legislatures that are strongly in favor. Not surprisingly, these states are both in the top five list of most educated legislatures in the nation. It’s good public policy, and the smart legislators know it.
This last summer, Obama was pressured to approve the final phase of Keystone after his announcing that the decision would be delayed until at least November. Normally there would be nothing unusual in that. But this particular case does stand out. In an election year where Democrats were facing a pasting at the poles, the eleven members of Congress putting pressure on the White House in favor of Keystone were democrats.
Led by Mary Landrieu, the eleven rallied together after Obama declared in April that there would be no Keystone decision before November (at the earliest). They wrote and signed a letter calling for a decision by May. (This was rejected by Obama.) Seven of these eleven remain in the Senate after the shellacking the Democrats received last month.
Other Democratic senators have also support Keystone XL. Senators Michael Bennet, Bob Casey, and Tom Carper voted in favor of approval on November 18th, though they did not sign Landrieu’s letter. All three will be in the 114th Congress. Added to the other seven survivors of the November vote that means that Republicans can potentially add ten Democrats to votes to approve Keystone,
In the House last month, thirty-one Democrats voted in favor of HR 5682, calling for approval. Twenty-five of these will be returning in January. (Of those not returning, four were retiring, and only two lost their bids for election. Coincidence? Maybe sound energy policy wins votes.) Without these Democrats, the House has 246 Republicans and the Senate has fifty-four. These are clear majorities, but they are not super-majorities: should the Republicans go their own way and not engage in bipartisan support, they can pass these bills, but are in danger of a veto.
With these Democrats, the equation changes. In the Senate you have a nice, veto-proof sixty-four votes. The House falls slightly short of the super-majority in terms of absolute numbers, with only 271 votes of 435. If only 135 opponents were to vote against overriding the veto while all 271 supporters were to show up for the vote, the override would go through. And none of these numbers include any newly elected Democrats that might support Keystone.
All this means that Republicans have the chance to force Obama to choose to either stop dragging his heels on Keystone, or to veto a bipartisan bill and clearly show that he is hostile to Congress as a whole, not just to the Republicans inside it. It further shows that the newly elected Republican majority is willing to toss out the past six years of one party diktat in order to unify the nation on a basis of good government. And it’s a chance to make the Congress take the high ground away from the White House.