Republican Keystone, tax cut bill expect to pass on Tuesday

Mon Dec 12, 2011 7:47pm EST
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By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Republican bid to force President Barack Obama to speed up approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline project looked set to pass the House of Representatives on Tuesday but will likely stall in the Democratic-controlled Senate, aides said.

Republicans have linked the proposed Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline to President Barack Obama's efforts to extend a payroll tax cut for workers. Some economists warn that allowing the tax cut to expire could damage a fragile U.S. economic recovery.

The top Republican in Congress, Speaker John Boehner, said on Monday he was confident the House would pass a Republican measure that includes extending the tax cut beyond this year and sets a deadline for a decision on the fate of the delayed pipeline, which has drawn fire from environmentalists.

Boehner did not predict Senate passage, but told reporters, "I think we have a good shot."

For the House bill to win Senate approval, 13 Democrats would need to join the chamber's 47 Republicans to provide the needed 60 votes to clear a procedural hurdle. Only a handful of Democrats are expected to vote yes, aides said.

The State Department effectively slammed the brakes on the Republican effort on Monday. It said plans to fast-track the Keystone XL decision would violate environmental laws and force it to withhold approval.

"Should Congress impose an arbitrary deadline for the permit decision ... the department would be unable to make a determination to issue a permit for this project," the State Department said in a statement.

Republicans are widely seen as using Keystone as a bargaining chip in their negotiations with Democrats over how to pay for the $120 billion cost of the payroll tax cut. Democrats are pushing for a surtax on millionaires to pay for it, which almost all Republicans reject.   Continued...