- The Washington Times - Friday, December 16, 2011

House Speaker John A. Boehner “guaranteed” Friday that the House version of legislation to extend the current payroll tax break would include a provision for quick action on the massive Keystone oil pipeline project, a provision that President Obama strongly opposes.

The Ohio lawmaker’s unwavering position came as tensions on Capitol Hill had subsided significantly in the wake of a bipartisan compromise announced late Thursday to keep federal agencies funded into next year — a move needed to avoid a government shutdown on Saturday.

The House already has passed legislation that extends the 2 percent payroll tax cut into 2012, which Mr. Obama also supports. But included in the GOP-crafted bill is language to force the Obama administration to move forward with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, a $7 billion project would transport oil from western Canada to the U.S. refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Business groups and labor unions that would build the project have pushed to quick approval of Keystone, but Mr. Obama’s environmental supporters have rallied to block the proposal. Mr. Obama recently moved to push back the effective date on a decision until after the 2012 election, but congressional Republicans — and some Democrats — are pressing for an expedited review.

Senate leaders now are negotiating their version of the tax bill, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, pressing for the Keystone provision to be dropped.

But Mr. Boehner told reporters Friday if the bill comes back to the House without the pipeline language, “we will make changes to it, and I will guarantee you that the Keystone pipeline will be in there when it goes back to the United States Senate.”

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, accused Republicans of hypocrisy, saying the majority party had pledged to refrain from inserting “extraneous matter into must-past bills.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated Thursday that President Obama “would reject a proposal that tried to mandate approval of the Keystone project,” but stopped short of issuing a veto threat.

The payroll tax is 4.2 percent this year, but reverts to its usual 6.2 percent on Jan. 1 without congressional action. Both parties have said they want to extend the tax break another year, but are divided over how to pay for it.

Meanwhile, the House on Friday afternoon was moving to pass a $1 trillion spending bill to fund several government agencies for the rest of the 2012 fiscal year, which ends after September 30. The measure then would move then to the Senate, which is expected to approve it late Friday or Saturday. While funding for the agencies technically expires at the end of Friday, the White House said agencies would remain open Saturday as long as the House passes the bill.