Senate Republicans are going to use their newfound majority advantage to tackle Keystone XL first thing come January, sending a message to Democrats and Washington at large that they’re dealing with a different breed of leadership.
Majority Leader-elect Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Majority Whip-elect John Cornyn (R-TX) don’t have an easy job ahead of them; even in the wake of Dems’ midterm cycle defeats, many conservatives are still making their concerns heard about the leadership’s commitment to taking on big government, as opposed to just rolling with the punches.
But for Mitch McConnell, who has struggled to pass conservative legislation during Harry Reid’s time in the Majority, this move seems to be about more than just getting a bill passed—it’s about fundamentally changing the way both sides participate in the deliberative process.
“I hope that senators on both sides will offer energy-related amendments, but there will be no effort to micromanage the amendment process,” McConnell told reporters. “And we’ll move forward and hopefully be able to pass a very important job-creating bill early in the session.”
Among potential energy amendments that senators could seek to attach to the Keystone bill are proposals to slow or stop EPA’s emissions rules for power plants and plans to fast-track liquefied natural gas exports.
McConnell added: “The notion that building another pipeline is somehow threatening to the environment is belied by the fact that we already have 19 pipelines, I’m told by Lisa Murkowski, that either cross the Mexican border or the Canadian border. Multiple studies showing over and over again no measurable harm to the environment. People want jobs, and this project will create high-wage jobs for our people and it certainly does enjoy a lot of bipartisan support. You saw that on the vote that was held a couple weeks ago.”
An open amendment debate? This is new territory for the Senate, which under Reid’s control served as little more than a killing field for even bipartisan amendments.
Tackling Keystone XL out of the gate is a smart move on the part of McConnell and Cornyn for two reasons. The first is obvious; by forcing a vote on the pipeline first, they’ll likely be forcing Democrats to go on the record as supporting or rejecting other hot-button energy issues like EPA emissions standards, fracking, and energy exports. This puts pressure on Democrats to take a stand for job growth and expansion of our energy market, and provides Republicans the opportunity to present a unified caucus. (Not a single Republican shot down the pipeline last time it came up for a vote.)
The second is less obvious—and possibly less satisfying, depending on how you feel about Congress—but effective nonetheless. Keystone is a bipartisan issue, which means that by the time debate on the bill rolls around, both Republicans and Democrats will stump for its passage. Earlier this month, 14 Democrats stood up in favor of the pipeline; depending on who steps up to the mic, Republicans will be able to make hay out comparisons between Reid’s do-nothing Senate, and McConnell’s productive, bipartisan one.
Will we still see political theatre and bad faith obstructionism? Absolutely. But this time around, we’ll at least be in control of how far that obstructionism is allowed to go, and that sounds like a recipe for progress to me.DONATE
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