(Adds final vote count, background)
By Timothy Gardner and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Republicans in the U.S. Senate made good on a pledge to pass the long-pending Keystone XL oil pipeline on Thursday, a measure the White House said President Barack Obama would veto.
Senators voted 62-36 on the bill to bypass the Obama administration’s review of Keystone, five short of the number needed to overturn a potential rejection by the president. All Republicans present voted for the bill as did nine Democrats.
Approving Keystone has been the top priority of Republicans in the new Congress after they won control of the Senate in November.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Keystone would be good for the middle class and “pump billions” of dollars into the economy.
Debate on the bill lasted most of the month with Senators engaging in an open process espoused by McConnell to debate dozens of amendments. Only a handful of the amendments passed, including one from Senator Lisa Murkowski, the chair of the energy committee, in which companies transporting crude from Canada’s oil sands would have to contribute to an oil spill fund.
Obama has raised new questions about the number of jobs it would create and said that Keystone would mainly benefit the company that wants to build it, TransCanada Corp, not U.S. gasoline consumers.
While the project would create thousands of temporary construction jobs, a State Department report said fewer than 40 workers would operate Keystone XL, once built.
Obama wants the State Department to finish determining whether the pipeline is in the national interest, but backers say the six-year-plus approval process has lasted too long. The project would bring some 800,000 barrels per day of heavy oil from Alberta and light U.S. crude to Nebraska en route to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
The House of Representatives has voted nine times to approve the project. Aides to House leaders said it was not clear whether the chamber would vote to pass the Senate bill or work out changes in conference talks.
Obama is expected to make his own decision soon on Keystone. The State Department has told other federal agencies they have until Feb. 2 to conclude their assessment of the project.
Even if Obama decides to oppose Keystone, Republicans will keep pushing. Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota plans to attach a measure to a spending bill or other legislation later in the year that Obama would find hard to reject. “There will be other opportunities,” Hoeven said. (Editing by Matthew Lewis and Cynthia Osterman)