Three weeks ago, the Republican-led House easily approved legislation to move forward with construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. This afternoon, the Republican-led Senate did the same.
The Senate voted Thursdayto build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, despite a long-standing veto threat from the White House. Nine Democrats joined a unanimous Republican caucus to support the bill.
The final outcome, which was never in doubt, was 62 to 36.
It's not common for 62 senators to invest quite so much energy in the creation of 35 jobs, but here we are anyway. Indeed, the real economic benefits will probably be felt in Alberta, leading Josh Green to joke that it's "kind of nuts" that congressional Republicans decided to start 2015 by "fighting for the Canadian economy."
Regardless, with the proposal now having passed both chambers, the bill now heads to the White House, where it will receive President Obama's veto. The president will first have to blow the dust off the box holding the veto pen -- he hasn't used it since 2010, and it will be only the third veto of his presidency. Among two-termers, Obama has made fewer vetoes than any president since Abraham Lincoln, though this may not remain true much longer in light of GOP dominance on Capitol Hill.
Towards the end of 2014, there were some concerns among environmentalists that Senate support for Keystone might be strong enough to muster a veto-proof majority. That's evidently not the case -- proponents would need 67 votes to override Obama on this, and as of today, those votes just aren't there.
As for the substance, let's recap our discussion from a few weeks ago, noting just how straightforward the case against Keystone is. At issue is a proposal to build a pipeline to transport oil, extracted from tar sands, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Critics 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.
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 western Canada (not that I have anything against western Canada's economy).
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 of 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 recently 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.”