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Aide: Democrats Offer Vote to Approve Keystone XL Pipeline — With a Catch

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Democrats are offering Republicans a vote on approving the Keystone XL pipeline, but are demanding an energy efficiency bill pass in return.  

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., remained confident Monday that the Senate would vote on approving the Keystone XL pipeline regardless of the outcome of the energy bill, but a senior Democratic aide threw cold water on that idea.  

“We are ready to give them a vote if they give us Shaheen-Portman,” a senior Senate Democratic aide said, referring to the energy efficiency legislation’s authors, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio. The aide added that the deal would require enough Republican support to pass the energy efficiency bill.  

“They need a way to figure out how to take yes for an answer,” the aide continued.  

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., compared the negotiation to a shell game.  

“That’s how I feel about this Shaheen-Portman,” Reid said in a brief interview with reporters. “It keeps changing. Every night there is something new… That’s where we are.”  

Reid said he believes that there are enough votes to begin debate, but that it’s unclear if Republicans will vote to end debate on the measure.  

“I think we can get cloture on moving to it, but whether we can get off of it I don’t know,” Reid said.  

The chamber is scheduled to vote to limit debate on proceeding to the bill on Tuesday. Hoeven said he too expects Republicans to go along with that vote to move the process along.  

“I think you’ll see that we’ll vote to proceed to the bill,” he said.  

Hoeven told reporters Monday that his conversations last week with Reid indicated that the chamber would move to a Keystone bill after the efficiency bill, without preconditions.  

“He said that we would go to energy efficiency, and then we’ll go to Keystone,” Hoeven said.  

Reid last week offered Republicans a vote on a separate bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline the week following consideration of the efficiency legislation. But Republicans are pushing for four amendments to the bill, one of which would include language deeming the controversial pipeline approved.  

Democrats argue that seeking the four amendments is the latest effort of the GOP to move the goalposts in the negotiations.  

“First they wanted non-binding language, then binding language, and now it’s Keystone plus their favorite energy amendments,” the aide continued.  

While Hoeven left the open the possibility that Keystone could get a vote even if the efficiency bill fails, the aide was skeptical, stressing the deal requires passage of the legislation in exchange for a vote on the pipeline.  

“We’d need a path to passage,” the aide said.  

The other amendments Republicans want considered include a Hoeven bill to prevent the EPA from requiring carbon capture and sequestration technology to capture greenhouse gas emissions from power plants unless certain benchmarks are met. In addition, GOP leaders want votes on a measure by Wyoming Republican John Barrasso to require the Energy Department to approve liquefied natural gas exports to all World Trade Organization countries and on a Roy Blunt, R-Mo., proposal to prevent a carbon tax.  

Earlier Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to say whether the president would veto a bill approving Keystone, although there is an assumption that he would. Keystone does not yet have 67 votes in the Senate to override a veto.  

White House adviser John Podesta, who has recused himself from Keystone, pointed to Shaheen-Portman earlier Monday as an example of something Congress might be able accomplish this year on climate change. But, he noted, it has to get past a filibuster hurdle first.  

As for Congress limiting on the president’s authority to impose carbon regulations? Podesta said the odds of that happening were “zero.”
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.