WASHINGTON -- Consideration of a bill to force authorization of the Keystone XL pipeline will likely move swiftly through the Senate. Energy Committee Chairwoman Sen. Lisa Murkowski plans to file the authorization legislation on Tuesday when Congress reconvenes for the 114th session and act quickly to bring it for a full vote in the Senate.
Murkowski will hold a markup hearing on the legislation on Wednesday and Thursday, Energy Committee spokesman Robert Dillon said. The legislation is expected to be available for a vote the following week, Dillon said. As Republicans take control of the Senate, the approval legislation is likely to pass the chamber, however, it’s unclear if President Barack Obama will veto the bill and if Republicans can produce a veto-proof majority. The Republican-controlled House has passed authorization legislation several times before.
Mitch McConnell, who will assume the role of majority leader when Congress returns on Tuesday, has said Keystone will be the first vote the GOP-controlled Senate takes.
Construction of the pipeline that would take oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast has become a contentious political fight. Republican supporters cast the pipeline as a job creator that would reduce American dependence on foreign oil. Democratic opponents argue the project will increase dependency on fossil fuels and contribute to damaging the environment. Presidential approval is needed because the pipeline crosses an international border, and so far Obama has been reluctant to approve the project.
The recent drop in gas prices could complicate the debate. Supporters of the pipeline have long argued that it would be crucial to lowering gas prices. But at the end of 2014, the price of gasoline took a nose dive, blunting the case that it will be needed to keep costs down.
The Senate attempted to pass legislation to compel approval in November, but fell one vote short. It was seen at the time as a last-ditch effort by outgoing Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana, to show her constituents that she could use her seniority to affect change in Congress. But after a bitter dispute with fellow Democrats, she couldn’t rally enough support to pass the bill and then ultimately lost her bid for reelection.
The version that Murkowski files on Tuesday will be identical to the bill that was considered in November, Dillon said. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., authored the original bill and has worked with Murkowski on the new version. Senate rules require that Murkowski file the bill to allow swift consideration.
While opposition to the bill is deep among some Democrats, a filibuster is unlikely to be utilized to halt the legislation. Most expect Democrats to allow the bill to go forward and let Obama decide whether he wants to veto the legislation. At an end-of-year press conference last month, Obama spoke disparagingly about the project and didn’t seem optimistic about it gaining his approval. Allowing the bill to pass without a veto-proof margin could provide Obama the opportunity to flex his veto muscles and remind the public he remains relevant in the legislative process.