Senate GOP Planning To Hijack Highway Bill With Keystone Pipeline Amendment

In a bid to fast-track approval of the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, Senate Republicans plan to attach an amendment mandating the pipeline’s construction onto a must-pass highway funding bill. The amendment — developed by Sens. John Hoeven, Richard Lugar, and David Vitter — is but the latest congressional push to advance TransCanada’s $7 billion project, which was rejected by President Obama last month.

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus has publicly raised objection to the measure, arguing that it will ultimately “kill the bill.” Passage of the highway bill is crucial, as the Highway Trust Fund faces insolvency in 2013, and the bill consists of much needed reforms that will ensure “current resources are used effectively so that Congress can continue investing in the Highway Trust Fund without adding to the federal deficit.”

Before taking the bill to the floor, both sides agreed not to attach controversial amendments:

The Senate’s $109 billion bill is a two-year bipartisan proposal that on Thursday survived a test vote of 85–11 on a measure that limits debate to 30 hours and prevents a filibuster of the bill.

The Senate bill also has the support of the Obama Administration.

In an effort to build bipartisan backing, from the start of their deliberations last year, the bill’s sponsors, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.), agreed not to include anything controversial in the measure.

The bill contains no new taxes, no changes to rail programs, and does not address truck weights or lengths, although it would mandate electronic onboard recorders for trucks.

The Senate bill is one of two transportation bills moving through Congress, but the House is also working on a version that is riddled with ill-effects for low- and middle-income Americans, making the Senate version the best option under consideration. The Keystone amendment, which would authorize construction on all but the most sensitive Nebraska portion of the pipeline, would jeopardize its passage.


Senate leaders are still trying to decide which amendments will get a vote, but if the Keystone XL pipeline reaches the Senate floor, the measure will require 60 votes for approval. At present, there are 47 Republicans in the Senate, although some Democrats have voiced support for the massive oil pipeline project in the past. Grassroots activists are mobilizing in opposition to the Republican Keystone push.

Fatima Najiy