WASHINGTON – With gas prices becoming a high-octane campaign issue, the Democrat-led Senate beat back a Republican effort to advance the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline project.
Thursday’s vote to attach the project to a must-pass transportation bill failed 56-42, with 11 Democrats joining Republicans to support the measure. Sixty votes were needed for passage.
President Barack Obama had called senators to urge a no vote.
“We hope that the Congress will … not waste its time with ineffectual, sham legislation,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
But the effort – along with a vote on a measure to expand offshore drilling that was also rejected – was designed to highlight differences between the two parties and provide fodder for the campaign trail in this year’s battle for control of the White House and the Senate.
“The president simply can’t claim to have a comprehensive approach to energy, because he doesn’t. And any time he says he does, the American people should remember one word: Keystone,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. No Republicans opposed the Keystone measure, but two did not vote.
Republicans are eager to showcase Obama’s decision to withhold approval of the Canada-to-Gulf Coast pipeline as proof that the administration is not doing enough to generate jobs and increase energy supplies. But opponents of the project accuse supporters of exaggerating the number of jobs it would create and dispute that it would bring down gas prices.
Pump prices have moved center stage on Capitol Hill, with hearings and an almost daily barrage of GOP criticisms of the administration’s approach to energy policy.
The pipeline issue has divided core Democratic constituencies, with some labor unions backing the project as an opportunity to create jobs, but environmentalists warn the pipeline would expand the nation’s carbon footprint and create more pollution.
An alternative Democratic measure that would, among other things, have prohibited the export of oil transported in the pipeline and, according to its sponsor, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., put “teeth behind all of the debate that this energy is going to be for the America consumer,” also failed.