Members of Congress contemplate forcing Obama’s hand on Keystone XL

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WASHINGTON – Barack Obama could soon be confronted with another dilemma on the stalled Keystone XL pipeline — whether he likes it or not.

Plans are afoot in Congress to push the issue onto the president’s desk by attaching a pipeline provision to an existing piece of legislation, forcing Obama to either sign it into law or veto the entire bill.

The White House is refusing to say what the president would do.

At a media briefing Wednesday, presidential spokesman Jay Carney urged Congress to stay out of the issue and wouldn’t say how Obama would react.

“I don’t believe there’s a bill, so this is discussion (for now),” Carney said.

“The president has long maintained that it is appropriate for a process like this to be separated from politics and to be worked on and run out of the State Department.”

The Keystone decision indeed belongs to the administration, not to legislators. Earlier this month, the State Department delayed the decision for at least a year, pending the outcome of a court fight in Nebraska over the proposed route.

Now, some members of Congress are working to slide a Keystone XL provision into another bill.

The Senate majority leader, Democrat Harry Reid, has announced such talks are underway but says there’s no agreement yet over the mechanics — such as what bill to use, or how binding the provision should be.

“I’m trying to work something out,” Reid said when asked earlier this week about a congressional push on Keystone.

“I hope so, but they keep moving the ball. You know, originally it was going to be sent to the Senate. Now they can’t decide on what they want to vote on…. They can’t decide what it is.”

If it received the 60 votes required to clear procedural obstacles in the Democrat-controlled Senate, a pro-Keystone XL bill would likely sail through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

But the president could kill the bill unless it had support from two-thirds of the Senate, meaning 67 votes.

The White House has repeatedly blamed similar congressional pressure before the 2012 election for derailing the Keystone XL process. It says it can’t be forced to cut corners while deciding whether to issue a permit.

The latest delay would take Obama past the November 2014 midterm elections. His office insists the move is apolitical, and based on the need to see how the Nebraska court fight plays out.

A group opposed to the project plans to make the same point Thursday.

The lawyer for holdout landowners is planning a news conference to stress that the pipeline currently has no legal route in Nebraska. A lower court ruling invalidated the planned route, and the case is now going to the state Supreme Court.

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