Republicans seem convinced that President Obama handed them a winning issue when he nixed the Keystone XL project the other day. They’ve pointed to it as proof that he doesn’t prioritize job creation and that he puts the interests of pointy headed greenies before those of American workers.
Now, via Joan McCarter, it looks like Republicans may revive the Keystone fight by tying it to the next battle over whether to extend the payoll tax cut. Specifically, House Speaker John Boehner over the weekend floated the idea of using Keystone as a bargaining chip in coming negotiations:
“The Keystone pipeline is a prime example of a shovel-ready project that’s been through every approval process here in Washington. Every option is on the table,” Boehner said on Fox News Sunday.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure this Keystone pipeline project is approved,” he said.
Asked specifically about linking the project’s approval to the payroll tax cut, Boehner replied: “We may. We may.”
Really? I’d be interested to see how this would work in practice. After all, the current Keystone pipeline proposal is dead — the state department and Nebraska rejected it. It’s true that TransCanada may reapply for a permit after it develops another route, but even if this does happen, Nebraska officials have said it will take six to nine months for the state to decide whether to approve it.
So any arrangement tying Keystone to the payroll tax cut would have to have language saying something like the adminisration promises to appove a pipeline proposal that may or may not materialize and that may or may not be approved by Nebraska. Reporters might ask Boehner’s office what such language would look like.
More broadly, even if you concede that the politics of Keystone are good for Republicans, do they really want to tie this to the payroll tax cut fight? After all, Dems conceded to Republicans an expedited decision on Keystone in exchange for the shorter term payroll tax cut extension, and Republicans ended up taking a pretty bad beating in the endgame of that fight. Do they really want to get caught up in yet another argument about process, even as the White House and Dems are urging them to extend a tax cut for 160 million working Americans? House conservatives seem to be spoiling for a fight over Keystone — and may blanche at another payroll tax cut extension — but it’s hard to see the upside in this approach for the GOP as a whole.
Maybe there’s a way for Republicans to pull this off procedurally and politically, but I’ll believe it when I see it.