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House overlooks policy reality, passes Keystone bill

For Republicans, Keystone is no longer about Keystone. Rather, the project has become an ideological totem of sorts
An activist holds up a sign outside the State Department during a protest of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 7, 2014 in Washington.
An activist holds up a sign outside the State Department during a protest of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 7, 2014 in Washington.
Josh Green joked the other day that it's "kind of nuts" that congressional Republicans decided to start 2015 by "fighting for the Canadian economy." That sounds about right, but here we are anyway.

House Republicans passed one of their top legislative priorities Friday -- a bill to move forward with the Keystone XL Pipeline. While passage wasn't in question as the Republican-led House has now passed the measure ten times, it now heads to the new Republican-controlled Senate where for the first time the measure is likely to reach President Barack Obama's desk and face his veto pen.

The final vote was 266 to 153, with 28 Democrats voting with the Republican majority. Zero GOP lawmakers voted against it, though Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) voted "present" (for reasons that apparently get a little complicated).
That's a comfortable margin of victory for the pipeline's proponents, but it's worth emphasizing that with this bill facing an inevitable veto from President Obama, the 266 supporters will not be enough to override the veto.
The House vote coincided with a ruling from the Nebraska Supreme Court, which said this morning that the proposed pipeline route can be legally built through the Cornhusker State. That court case effectively puts the Keystone decision in the president's hands, and at this point, he seems pretty skeptical about the project -- a point that seems to infuriate the pipeline's conservative supporters.
The trouble is, the arguments from Obama and Keystone critics happen to be true.
The case against the pipeline is pretty straightforward. At issue is a proposal to build a pipeline to transport oil, extracted from tar sands, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Critics of the project have said the tar-sands process is environmentally hazardous, which is true. They've said the project would have no real impact on already low gas prices, which is also true. And they've said Keystone would be largely meaningless to the U.S. unemployment rate, which, once again, is completely true.
Indeed, Josh Green noted in his report, "A State Department study last year concluded that Keystone would create 35 permanent, full-time U.S. jobs -- about what you'd get from opening a new Denny's franchise."
And on the other side of the aisle, Republicans have an equally straightforward rejoinder: they really, really, really like this project. Why? Because they really, really, really do.
Let's acknowledge what too often goes unsaid: for Republicans, the Keystone XL pipeline is no longer about the Keystone XL pipeline. It's just one oil project -- one that would have no discernable effect on anything, except maybe the economy in Alberta, Canada.
Rather, Keystone has become a totem of sorts. Its actual value has been rendered meaningless, replaced with post-policy symbolic value that ignores pesky details like facts and evidence. Indeed, the more Democrats and environmentalists tell Republicans this is a bad idea, the more Republicans convince themselves this is The Most Important Project In The World. It's ideologically satisfying.
Taking this one step further, my suspicion is that GOP officials find all of these circumstances quite convenient. Republicans don't have a jobs agenda, or much an economic vision in general, but they have a Keystone bill that those rascally Democrats won't accept.
And when pressed for an explanation on why congressional Republicans aren't working on economic development, they immediately turn to their talking point of choice: "Keystone! Keystone! Keystone!"
It's almost sad. NBC's First Read did a nice job this week describing the fight as small ball: "We've got to ask: All that money spent on the midterms, all that jockeying for control of the Senate, and first real statement from the new GOP majority is Keystone? It's small-ball politics, whether you're on the right, left or in the middle. It's certainly no Contract with America."