Endgame impossible to predict as House GOP delays pipeline-payroll tax vote until today.

Source: Elana Schor • E&E • Posted: Tuesday, December 20, 2011

After delaying a vote that has exposed internal GOP schisms, House Republicans are poised today to turn back a bipartisan Senate proposal to force a quick White House ruling on the Keystone XL oil pipeline while extending a payroll tax cut.

The House majority’s slow-walking of legislation that won 89 votes in the upper chamber comes as Senate Democratic leaders continue to hold firm, vowing to negotiate with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on a yearlong extension of the payroll tax cut after he agrees to their bipartisan two-month stopgap. The impasse casts fresh doubt on the ultimate fate of the Keystone XL fast-tracking that GOP leaders billed as a major victory mere days ago.

“Our members do not want to just punt” and agree to the Senate’s two-month plan, Boehner told reporters last night, adding that “we’re here, we’re willing to work, and we will appoint conferees” to talk with senators.

GOP leaders spoke after they pushed back a vote on the Senate’s payroll tax-and-pipeline plan that was once set for the wee hours of this morning. “We didn’t like doing things in the dead of the night,” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) explained.

Yet hours before that announcement, a handful of House Republicans said they would back the upper chamber package as several GOP senators leaned on their party colleagues to assent, allowing Congress to adjourn for the year. Five conservative Democratic senators joined the cause in a letter to Boehner that urged him to remember the payroll tax bill’s 60-day deadline for a White House ruling on the 1,700-mile Canada-to-U.S. pipeline.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who spearheaded the letter, said in a statement that “Montanans want this project to move forward in a way that respects private property rights and safety standards, and I hope the House won’t stand in their way.” Fellow Montana Sen. Jon Tester (D) joined him on the letter urging Boehner to pass the Senate payroll tax bill, as did Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska).

Added over the initial objections of White House negotiators, the Keystone XL provision at issue — which Boehner vowed less than a week ago to attach to a stopgap tax bill sent his way by the Senate — would require the State Department to approve the $7 billion pipeline within two months. If President Obama chose to reject a permit for Keystone XL, bitterly opposed by environmentalists who warn of its attendant greenhouse gas emissions increases, he would have to submit an official explanation to Congress.

While Republicans celebrated their success in forcing Obama’s party to accept the pipeline language, a top priority of the oil industry, green activists pivoted quickly over the weekend to insist that the Keystone XL rider would backfire on the GOP by giving the White House grounds to reject the pipeline (E&E Daily, Dec. 19).

Click here to read the Senate Democrats’ letter to Boehner on the payroll tax bill’s Keystone XL provision.