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President Barack Obama. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.
President Barack Obama. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Democrats Divide Over Keystone

Apr 23, 2012

President Obama was elected in a year that was very good for Democrats. He surely gets some of the credit for their success across the board in 2008. Since then, he has not been all that helpful. He pushed Cap & Trade and it passed the House only to die in the Senate. A lot of House Democrats thought that they had stuck their necks out for nothing.

Recently, retiring chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Barney Frank, spoke frankly about the cost that Democrats paid for passing ObamaCare. Now we have another example of a burden that the President has placed on his own party. Byron York has this at the Washington Examiner:

The president has put his feet in cement in opposition to the Keystone oil pipeline. But on Capitol Hill, more and more Democrats are joining Republicans to force approval of the pipeline, whether Obama wants it or not.

The President’s decision to delay the pipeline pleased his allies among the environmentalists and angered his allies among the unions. However that washes out for him, it has proved a problem for Congressional Democrats. At a moment when gas prices are high and jobs are scarce, it isn’t all that easy for a Senator or Representative to explain to his or her constituents why the Keystone pipeline was just the thing. The result is that a lot of Democrats are peeling off.

The latest action happened Wednesday, when the House passed a measure to move the pipeline forward. Before the vote, Obama issued a veto threat. The House approved the pipeline anyway — by a veto-proof majority, 293 to 127. Sixty-nine Democrats abandoned the president to vote with Republicans. That's a lot of defections.

When the House voted on the pipeline in July of last year, 47 Democrats broke with the president. Now that it's an election year and the number is up to 69, look for Republicans to hold more pipeline votes before November. GOP leaders expect even more Democrats to join them.

The action now is in the Senate.

Democrats are using the filibuster to stop the pipeline, which means 60 votes are required to pass it. (Some Democrats who bitterly opposed the filibuster when Republicans used it against Obama initiatives are notably silent these days.) In a vote last month, 11 Senate Democrats stood up against Obama to vote in favor of the pipeline. Add those 11 to the Republicans' 47 votes, and the pro-pipeline forces are just a couple of votes away from breaking Harry Reid's filibuster.

My guess is that the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will manage to block a vote. After all, that is what he is good at. He has managed to avoid bringing a budget to a vote, in defiance of federal law, for three years now.

The stakes are pretty high here. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called the current Keystone push a “partisan” maneuver. It is obviously a bipartisan maneuver. Sixty-nine Democrats in the House is close to half of the Democrats in the House. What happens if the Republicans do come up with two more Democratic Senators? President Obama will then have to decide whether to veto the bill or not. If he does, the House will vote to override. The Senate will sustain his veto, I am guessing.

Republicans are hoping this plays out as long as possible. They think it is a winning issue for them and they are right. The Keystone pipeline is going to be completed. If not now, then after the election. I don’t know whether the President will benefit from his decision to delay it. It’s pretty clear that it is dividing his party.

Sixty-nine Democrats peeling off on Keystone is a sign that a lot of the President’s party doesn’t think that loyalty to the President is an asset in this year’s election. 

Dr. Ken Blanchard is a professor of Political Science at Northern State University and writes for the Aberdeen American News and the blog South Dakota Politics.


06:42 am - Tue, April 24 2012
Ed Goss said:
So where does South Dakota Senator Johnson stand on this issue. I'm guessing the reponses on here will all say contact him. I'm hoping he or his staff will answer on this sight. So many good SD folks read Bernies magazine. Plus the residents should be told of how he will vote on this issue. I believe this line is called Keystone XL as the Keystone pipeline crosses our land and goes through or very near Yankton. .
07:31 am - Tue, April 24 2012
Bernie said:
Has the president really come out in opposition to the pipeline? After the Republicans in Nebraska forced a change in the route, it was my understanding that the administration didn't have a valid permit to approve because the Nebraska route was going to change.

Maybe I'm mistaken, but I thought the president then gave a go-ahead to the southern portion, which certainly signals an intent to approve the whole route, while awaiting inspection of a new application for the new route from Keystone. I think they just came up with a new route that avoids the sandhills and the Oglala Aquifer, but I don't know if they have re-submitted a plan?

I wish we could use less oil -- especially tar sands oil -- but it is going to be transported somewhere and so I don't see how it makes a lot of sense for Pierre, Lincoln or Washington to try to change reality. We all drive cars and depend on truck traffic, and until we can change the way those motors operate we would be hypocrites to be against the movement of oil. I don't see anything to suggest that the administration is going to do so?

The big question in SD has been whether the taxpayers should SUBSIDIZE the line. That's where I drew a line in the sand.

Plus I'm not sure there are adequate "clean up" funds available in case of a spill. And I don't think the company should be able to be heavy-handed with landowners.

If I have my facts wrong here, please advise accordingly as this is a big issue. Thanks as always for writing, Ken.
09:53 am - Tue, April 24 2012
Ed Goss said:
Good job Bernie. I think they have resubmitted a couple of weeks ago. Not sure SD needs to subsidize big oil either. We were never heavy handed by the folks from Trans Canada on the Keystone line, but then I could see were it was headed and got several concessions from them that made sense to both them and me. Like it or not the way the US moves products we are going to need oil in this country for years to come, it doesn't mean I have to like it but realality sets in at some point. Who knows years from now they may have a refinery East of Yankton.
11:43 am - Tue, April 24 2012
Bernie said:
You said it, Ed. We need to have principles, and then we need to be realistic ... unless we want to park our cars and walk. I'd like to think we can find sensible solutions.
07:21 pm - Tue, April 24 2012
Ken Blanchard said:
I think that the President's decision to delay Keystone XL had nothing to do with policy and everything to do with politics. He threw a bone to the environmental left, which has made a fetish out of the question.

His decision to okay half of the pipeline was largely incoherent as policy. Half a dog doesn't hunt. It was intended to blunt the issue for Republicans.

I do expect that the President, if reelected, will eventually okay the completion of the pipeline. I am guessing that he has already told the Canadians this, very privately.
07:29 am - Wed, April 25 2012
dave tunge said:
A quick change of subject here but when Bernie mentioned adequate clean up funds that pertain to pipelines I'm wondering if our legislature has a clean up plan fo address what may be thousands of wind generator towers standing idle and decomposing should the federal subsidies go away and wind energy no longer profitable. Do we want such an unsightly mess littering the landscape should this occur?
12:13 am - Wed, May 23 2012
Dr. Bill Wattenburg said:
My personal friend Sen. Harry Reid blocked the Keystone Pipeline so that gas would stay near $5 a gallon. I will make sure my listeners will think Reid is such a great guy because he throws money to my pet projects at the Lawrence Livermore Lab along with Diane Feinstein. And I refuse to call Obama on his failures. I make sure it's his advisors that get all the blame. Because Obama is such a smart guy. I have said this at least a thousand times, even though his policies are making the economy stagnant.

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