Republicans Are Picking Exactly the Wrong Time to Push for the Keystone XL Pipeline

Elephant illustration: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/5325453058/sizes/l/in/photostream/">DonkeyHotey</a>/Flickr; Pipeline photo: Tony Gutierrez/AP

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The New York Times tells us what to expect when Congress reconvenes this week:

Republicans hope to strike early with measures that are known to have bipartisan support. The House is set to pass legislation this week expediting the Keystone XL pipeline; the Senate is making it the first order of business as well. The House will also take up a measure that would change the new health care law’s definition of full-time workers to those working 40 hours rather than the current 30 hours — another proposal that has drawn backing from Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate.

….Mr. Obama, who will embark this week on a series of policy-related trips in advance of the State of the Union address on Jan. 20, says he is open to working with the Republican Congress but draws the line at unraveling some of his major domestic initiatives, particularly on health care, Wall Street restrictions and the environment. The Keystone XL pipeline bill could present him with an immediate decision about starting the year with a veto, and Senate Democrats are confident they could sustain one.

I wonder how big a deal the Keystone XL pipeline is these days? It won’t come on line for years, so current conditions shouldn’t logically affect anything. But the world doesn’t operate according to logic, and at the moment the world is awash in oil. Prices have plunged, OPEC is engaged in a production war, and gasoline is selling for two bucks a gallon. Does the American public really care very much right now about a pipeline that makes it easier for Canadians to ship their oil to Japan via the Gulf of Mexico?

I’m not sure, but I suspect Republicans may be choosing the wrong moment to take a stand on Keystone XL. Democrats can probably hold it up in the Senate without paying any real price, and even if they can’t, Obama can veto it without paying any real price. It’s lost its salience for the time being.

I suppose it’s too late for Republicans to change their plans, but they’d probably be better off picking other fights. Changes to Obamacare could spark battles they’re able to profit from. Keystone XL probably won’t.

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