- The Washington Times - Monday, December 12, 2011

President Obama has done everything in his power to keep oil from flowing through the Keystone XL pipeline. TransCanada says this $13 billion project would put 20,000 to work immediately, but the Obama administration wants none of it. House Republicans have come up with a clever strategy to get around the blockage.

The House is expected to pass legislation Tuesday tying the 1,661-mile pipeline delivering black gold from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast to the Democrats’ favorite - but failed - “job creators”: the payroll tax holiday and extended unemployment benefits.

Doing so puts the ball in the court of Democrats, who will be forced to choose between getting the desired benefits and appeasing environmental extremists. Mr. Obama said last week he will “reject” a payroll tax package that includes the pipeline. On Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Keystone pipeline is just “a political gift or an ideological item” for Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he opposes the two items tied together, but his own caucus members are starting to question his rationale.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pointed out the inconsistency across the aisle. “The only reason Democrats have given for opposing this bill is that they’d rather extend the payroll tax cut on its own, without adding language about a pipeline - that many of them say they support anyway,” the Kentucky Republican said on the floor Monday. “This makes absolutely no sense.”

The Teamsters and AFL-CIO back the Keystone project because it means jobs for their members, but Mr. Obama punted the pipeline decision until after the election to avoid angering radical greens while still holding on to Big Labor’s campaign cash. The Republican plan would force the president’s hand by giving him 60 days to decide against the Keystone pipeline or it automatically goes forward.

The GOP also put some fiscal reforms into the package. The extension of federal unemployment benefits would gradually scale back the maximum length of time for receiving the handout from 99 to 59 weeks. Also, all federal and state recipients of our newest entitlement program will have to look for a job and get in a GED course. States could choose to require drug testing as a condition for receiving a check. The legislation throws in another year of 100 percent business expensing to help spur investment and a two-year extension of the usual Medicare “doc fix,” which prevents a big cut to doctor reimbursements.

The cost of these measures is offset by a continued pay freeze on federal workers, a slow increase in Medicare premiums for high-income individuals and disallowing millionaires from accepting food stamps or unemployment checks. Last year, Democrats just borrowed $110 billion from Social Security for the tax holiday.

While the temporary payroll tax cut will do little to stimulate the economy, it would be politically damaging for Republicans to make that point in an election year. Forcing Mr. Obama to take a clear stand on a shovel-ready job-creation measure will actually help struggling Americans.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.

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