- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Republicans turned back efforts Tuesday to force all oil shipped through the prospective Keystone XL pipeline to be sold in the U.S., as the Senate began the first real work on the biggest bill of the new Congress.

They were the first votes on amendments that the Senate has held since July 29 — or nearly six months ago, when Democrats were in control of the chamber and routinely shut down debate on most bills.

Republicans, who took control of the chamber earlier this year, have promised a more open process that would allow both sides to offer amendments and to get votes on them.

Democrats plan to use those amendments force the GOP to make tough choices, and two of those came Tuesday on the proposal to restrict Keystone oil to the U.S., and another to require the pipeline be built using only American-produced steel.

Republicans, joined by three Democrats, tabled the oil amendment 57-42, and tabled the steel amendment 53-46, with one Republican defecting to vote with Democrats.

“Let’s get this process moving,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee.

SEE ALSO: John Cornyn, Senate’s No. 2 Republican: Overriding veto on Keystone a ‘work in progress’

The amendments were part of a GOP push to approve construction of the Keystone pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

A bill has already cleared the House and needs only Senate approval to go to President Obama — though Mr. Obama has vowed a veto, saying he is still trying to make a final decision on approval and doesn’t want his authority short-circuited.

Democrats said the U.S.-first amendments made sense since the Canadian company trying to win approval of the pipeline is getting a special deal.

“They’re a private company asking us to do extraordinary things,” said Sen. Al Franken, the Minnesota Democrat who proposed the U.S. steel amendment. “If this about American jobs, let’s make it about American jobs.”

Ms. Murkowski countered that it would be the first time on record that Congress would have required a private company to source materials only from the U.S.

The Senate did approve an amendment pushing federally owned buildings to meet higher energy efficiency standards. That measure was approved 94-5.

Senators set up votes on a half-dozen other amendments, which could happen as soon as Wednesday.

Across the Capitol, the House is poised to vote later this week on a bill streamlining the permit process for natural gas pipelines and requiring permits to be issued if agencies wait too long on them.

The White House, however, said it would veto that legislation too. In an official statement of policy, the Office of Management and Budget said its agencies would end up denying permits prematurely, rather than letting them cross the deadline without a decision.

“For these reasons, the bill may actually delay projects or lead to more project denials, undermining the intent of the legislation,” the administration said.

It was the seventh veto threat the administration has issued in the new Congress. By contrast, Mr. Obama has signed only one bill into law.

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