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Congress Returns to the Keystone XL Pipeline Fight

April 15, 2012 - 6:00pm

The president may have to begin dialing up members of Congress again in an effort to block a vote on the Keystone XL Pipeline.

You see, the Congress returns to Washington, D.C., this week after their two-week Easter/Passover/Spring break with lots on their plate, including trying to revive the pipeline project.

The House of Representatives is expected to debate and vote on a highway bill that includes permitting authority allowing for the go-ahead of the Keystone XL Pipeline. This is the private pipeline project that the president blocked back in January when the House and Senate included it in an extension of the payroll tax holiday bill. This is the same pipeline project that the president lobbied against when the Senate considered the matter a few weeks ago when it debated the highway bill. The Senate conducted an amendment vote offered by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., that would have approved the pipeline project. The amendment failed by four votes. The vote was conducted when two GOP senators were necessarily absent due to illness and a death in the family. This means that the vote actually only failed by two votes and this failure was after the president called several democratic senators and asked them to support his position and vote against approving the pipeline.

The Senate will get another chance to approve the pipeline later this spring when the House and the Senate go to conference on the highway bill and try to resolve the differences between the two bills. The Keystone pipeline issue will need to be resolved in the conference committee along with the time line for the highway bill. The highway bill the Senate passed is a two-year bill. The House initially wanted a five-year bill and one with additional energy exploration initiatives.

The Senate will start out this week by conducting a procedural vote on Monday evening deciding whether it wants to begin debating the so-called "Buffett Rule" bill, S 2203. The "paying a fair share act" amends the IRS tax code to require any taxpayer whose adjusted gross income exceeds $1 million to pay a minimum tax rate of 30 percent. The bill also expresses the sense of the Senate that Congress should enact tax reform that repeals unfair and unnecessary tax loopholes and expenditures, simplifies the tax system, and makes sure that the wealthiest taxpayers pay a fair share of taxes. The bill is not expected to garner the necessary 60 votes for the Senate to begin debate. As a matter of fact, many "Hill watchers" believe that the bill is being considered for political gamesmanship by the Senate Democrats and for the benefit of the president. The president spent several campaign stops over the past two weeks talking about the "Buffett Rule" and the need to change the tax structure for the wealthy. The Democrats on the Hill, as well as the president, believe conducting this vote on the day Americans are required to pay their taxes is a good political vote.

Stay tuned to see how the "Buffett Rule" vote turns out in the Senate and how well the president does working the phones again to block the approval process for the Keystone XL Pipeline project.

Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, elected United States Senate secretary for the majority and minority. Currently she is a senior legislative adviser to Covington & Burling LLC and is the founder of

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