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Senate backs Obama in pipeline rejection
Democratic senators voted Thursday to ratify President Obama's decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, leaving the project in limbo but ensuring it remains a political issue through this year's elections.
Mr. Obama personally lobbied Democrats to support his decision, and was rewarded when 42 of them sided with him — enough to sustain a filibuster against a GOP-led effort to undo the president's rejection.
"The Democrat-controlled Senate just turned its back on job creation and energy independence," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. "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."
Also Thursday, the Senate rejected an effort by Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, to force the administration to cut $10 billion in duplicative programs out of the federal budget, and turned back another effort to expand offshore oil- and gas-drilling permits.
Senators also approved new rules for Gulf Coast oil spill recovery money so that part of it can be sent to states to spend how they see fit.
The flurry of action came after Mr. McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, broke a weeklong deadlock that had stopped them from moving forward on a massive new transportation bill.
Senators from both parties insisted on being able to vote on amendments, and Mr. Reid and Mr. McConnell settled on a list of 30. Seven of them had votes Thursday, and the rest will come next week.
But the oil pipeline was the biggest showdown.
Keystone XL would carry oil from Canada's tar sands into the U.S. for refining, following a route that could go through environmentally sensitive areas of Nebraska. An application had been pending for years, and most U.S. agencies had signed off on it, but Mr. Obama's State Department last year said it was putting off final approval until after the 2012 election.
Congressional Republicans balked and forced through a bill setting a final deadline for the Obama administration to decide on the project. Mr. Obama, siding with environmentalists and against his labor union allies, rejected the pipeline in January.
The White House said the timeline Congress set didn't give the State Department enough time to weigh all of the issues involved, so he was left with no choice but to reject it.
Pipeline operator TransCanada said in February it would go ahead with about 500 miles of the southern part of the pipeline, from Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast, to alleviate a storage bottleneck in Oklahoma. It also has said it will submit an alternate route for the northern segment, so as to avoid the part of Nebraska at issue.
A majority of senators voted 56-42 Thursday to overturn his decision, but the vote fell four shy of the 60 needed to approve the amendment under the Senate's rules for debate.
White House press secretary Jay Carney would not tell reporters which senators Mr. Obama lobbied, and said Republicans were trying "to play politics" with the pipeline.
He said it was "false advertising" to say that approving the pipeline would reduce gas prices now.
Eleven Democrats bucked the president to side with all 45 Republicans who voted Thursday.
Minutes earlier, the chamber rejected another proposal that would have pushed the pipeline but insisted it be built with U.S. labor and materials, and would have required that all of the oil shipped through it be sold only in the U.S.
"This oil is not going to be going to the United States. It's going to be going to the export market," said Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who tried to force the U.S.-only provisions.
Without Keystone, many senators said, Canada likely will build a pipeline west rather than south, carrying the oil to the Pacific Ocean where it is likely to be bought by China.
The pipeline issue is bound to return, particularly since House Republicans are eyeing ways to push their own Keystone bill through their chamber. Also, Republican presidential candidates have blasted Mr. Obama for rejecting the pipeline and vowed to make it a major issue in the fall campaign.
In other action, the Senate reversed course from last year and rejected Mr. Coburn's amendment, which would have tried to find $10 billion in savings from agency duplication. His proposal would have required the administration to pick $10 billion in cuts from a list of projects where the government's auditor says two or more agencies overlap.
The amendment also gained a majority 52-46 vote, but that too fell short of the 60 votes needed.
It marks a slide from last year, when a similar amendment requiring the administration to use the reports to cut $5 billion passed the Senate. It later died when the bill to which it was attached was pulled from the floor without final approval.
Last week, the auditors at the Government Accountability Office released their second duplication report finding that the government could save tens of billions of dollars a year if it streamlined programs.
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