- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

President Obama vowed Wednesday to reject Republican efforts to attach approval of a U.S.-Canadian oil pipeline project to legislation that would cut payroll taxes for millions of Americans.

“Any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll tax cut, I will reject,” Mr. Obama said at the White House during a joint appearance with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who favors the Keystone XL pipeline project. “Everybody should be on notice. The payroll tax cut is something that House Republicans as well as Senate Republicans should want to do regardless of any other issues.”

House Republicans quickly served notice they intend to call what they view as Mr. Obama’s bluff.

“We are working on a bill to stop a tax hike, protect Social Security, reform unemployment insurance and create jobs,” said Brendan Buck, spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “If President Obama threatens to veto it over a provision that creates American jobs, that’s a fight we’re ready to have.”

The State Department has put a final decision on the pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada across the U.S. to refineries on the Gulf Coast, on hold until late next year - raising criticism that the administration is punting on a job-creation project because of opposition from environmentalists who are important to Mr. Obama’s re-election bid.

The president stopped short of saying he would veto a payroll tax cut bill that includes any effort to speed a decision on the pipeline.

But Mr. Obama also said he would reject any attempt to include “a whole bunch of extraneous issues not related to making sure that the American people’s taxes don’t go up on Jan. 1.”

“I don’t expect to have to veto it, because I expect they’re going to have enough sense over on Capitol Hill to do the people’s business and not try to load it up with a bunch of politics,” Mr. Obama said. “It shouldn’t be held hostage for any other issues.”

Mr. Boehner cited the Canadian prime minister’s support for the pipeline project as a reason for Congress to press for it to be built.

“Prime Minister Harper has made clear that if this project is not approved, American competitors, such as China, will gain from our loss,” Mr. Boehner said in a statement. “This project is good for the economy, and it’s good for America’s energy security.”

The president and Mr. Harper did discuss the pipeline in a private meeting at the White House, in which they agreed on other border issues such as improving cargo screening. Mr. Obama said “the prime minister and our Canadian friends understand that it’s important for us to make sure that all the questions regarding the project are properly understood, especially its impact on our environment and the health and safety of the American people.”

“I assured him that we will have a very rigorous process to work through that issue,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Harper played the role of a polite guest when he and Mr. Obama faced reporters.

“He’s indicated to me as he’s indicated to you today that he’s following proper” procedures, Mr. Harper said. He said Mr. Obama assured him that “he has an open mind.”

“I take that as his answer,” Mr. Harper said.

A prominent House Republican told The Washington Times the Keystone XL pipeline will play a crucial role in the nation’s energy future.

Rep. Lee Terry, Nebraska Republican, said it’s a make-or-break issue for environmental groups. They fear if the Canada-to-Texas pipeline is built, the nation’s course on energy policy will be set. But if they can defeat Keystone, they can push a ‘green’ agenda, he said.

“They feel like the war is now,” Mr. Terry said. “They want to eliminate any hydrocarbon energy, and they want to do it now. They want to turn the switch off.”

At the joint appearance with Mr. Harper, the president said the two governments are focused on “our highest priority - creating jobs faster and growing the economy faster.”

Supporters of the pipeline say it would create about 20,000 jobs.

“The president has said repeatedly that jobs are his top priority, says he wakes up every morning thinking about how he can create jobs,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “Yet here’s the single greatest shovel-ready project in America, ready to go, and for some reason he’s suddenly not interested.”

A group of 22 House Democrats wrote to Mr. Obama in October urging him to approve the pipeline, saying it would create an additional 118,000 “spin-off” jobs.

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