- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2015

Democrats successfully blocked the Keystone XL pipeline Monday, launching a filibuster in the Senate that keeps the long-delayed project on ice for at least the near term while Republicans try to figure out whether they can revive the bill.

“We hit our first little bump in the road back to regular order, but we’ve got to roll with some things,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who was in charge of shepherding the bill through the chamber.

Democratic leaders, who oppose the pipeline, nonetheless said they were filibustering in order to continue the debate and to earn the chance to vote on more amendments to the bill.

They accused Republicans of trying to shut down debate too quickly and said the two weeks the Senate devoted to the issue weren’t enough. The Senate has voted on two dozen amendments — more than the chamber considered in all of 2014, when it was under Democratic control.

Still, Democratic leaders said Republicans should be held to the standard set by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, who pledged to allow a more freewheeling process.

“Trying to muzzle the debate by refusing to allow Democrats even one minute to advocate for their amendment and then simply refusing to hold votes on dozens of other amendments is not a remotely ‘open’ process,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “Democrats are seeking to improve this bill for middle-class families, while Republicans are working to preserve it as a special interest giveaway to foreign oil and foreign steel companies.”

Republicans fell six votes shy of the 60 needed to end the filibuster. Four Republicans and two Democrats who were co-sponsors of the Keystone bill were absent. If these senators had been present, the vote might have passed.

Three other Democrats — Sens. Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania and Jon Tester of Montana — who voted for the Keystone pipeline two months ago reversed themselves and voted to filibuster it Monday.

The Keystone pipeline would carry oil from Canada’s tar sands to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico. But the project has taken on a symbolism far outstripping its economic or environmental impact.

Though Obama administration studies say the pipeline would do little to elevate emissions of greenhouse gases, Democratic opponents have said approval of the project would be acquiescence to a fossil fuel economy and result in more emissions for decades.

President Obama has vowed to veto the bill if it reaches his desk. He said he won’t allow Congress to do an end-run around the State Department, which has been delaying a final decision for years.

Republicans have set up the pipeline as an effort of the new Senate, hoping to persuade enough Democrats to join them and provide a test of Mr. Obama’s veto pen. It was also supposed to be a chance for Republican leaders to show they could run a more open Senate than Democrats did over the past few years.

Mr. McConnell, who switched his vote in a procedural move to be able to try to overcome the filibuster later, steamed at the delay, saying Democrats were being hypocritical in complaining about too few amendments.

“Nine current Senate Democrats voted for Keystone just a few weeks ago without having the opportunity to offer or debate even a single amendment,” he said.

Democrats bristled at Mr. McConnell’s move late last week to refuse to allow Democrats even a minute to defend their amendments before the Senate voted to kill the proposals.

“I have never seen debate shut down as aggressively,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, who has taken much of the brunt of Mr. McConnell’s criticism for the Senate’s gridlock over the past few years.

“Running the Senate is hard,” Mr. Reid said. “But as we move forward, I hope Sen. McConnell will adhere to his pledges of open debate and work with the Democratic senators who are seeking votes on their amendments.”

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