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Senate Inches Closer to Approving Transportation Bill

The Senate took a significant step toward finishing work on a transportation funding bill today when it agreed to four amendments and rejected five, including two proposals involving the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

The nine amendments were part of a list of 30 agreed to by Senate leaders. The Senate will resume voting on amendments Tuesday.

The two Keystone amendments rejected by the Senate included a Democratic proposal from Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.) that would have required that the project’s permit application be approved or denied within 90 days of the completion of all analyses required by current law and executive orders.

The proposal would also have required that all construction materials be made in the United States and would have banned companies from exporting oil from the pipeline. The amendment, which needed 60 votes to pass, failed 33-65.

The Wyden amendment was a Democratic alternative to an amendment offered by Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) that would have immediately approved the Keystone pipeline. The amendment needed 60 votes to pass, but it failed, 56-42.

Congress passed legislation in December that included a provision requiring the White House to make a decision on the pipeline by the end of February.

The White House subsequently rejected the project, saying the deadline provided did not allow enough time to adequately review the project. But the White House invited TransCanada, the firm building the project, to reapply.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Democrats support the project, but only after it gets the proper review.

“Today the Senate voted against Republicans’ attempt to impose an artificial timeline and short-circuit the process needed to plan the best route for the Keystone XL pipeline,” Reid said in a statement after the vote. “If Republicans truly want to move ahead with this pipeline, they should stop treating it like a political football.”

“Half of the pipeline is already being built, and the company building the pipeline is submitting another application for the remainder of the route,” Reid continued. “This process should be given time to work, and be governed by what will produce the best result — not by Republicans’ desire to appease the tea party or big oil companies.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the amendment failed largely because of the personal lobbying of President Barack Obama, who made calls to some Senators urging them to oppose the bill.

“President Obama’s personal pleas to wavering Senators may have tipped the balance against this legislation. When it comes to delays over Keystone, anyone looking for a culprit should now look no further than the Oval Office,” he said.

The Senate also defeated an amendment from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that would have delayed Environmental Protection Agency rules regarding industrial boiler emissions for 15 months. The delay is needed, supporters argued, in order to give the EPA time to rewrite the rules and to provide additional time for the facilities to comply after the rules are finalized. The amendment needed 60 votes to pass, but it failed, 52-46.

The Senate voted 82-16 to approve a proposal from Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) that provides funding to rural counties with a large federal presence to make up for lagging tax revenue.

A proposal from Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), which was defeated 44-54, would have increased oil and gas development by allowing the sale of leases throughout the Outer Continental Shelf, including off the coasts of Florida, California and Virginia.

The Senate also voted 66-31 to waive a budget point of order against the bill raised by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and the chamber approved by voice vote an amendment from Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) that would authorize special measures against foreign jurisdictions, financial institutions, and others that significantly impede United States tax enforcement.

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