Senate GOP seeks Dem votes for veto-proof Keystone margin

By Philip Brasher

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 7, 2015 - Senate Republicans scrambled to secure a veto-proof margin for legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline but said they may have to attach the measure to a must-pass bill later.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said there were about 63 votes for the bill, leaving supporters close but short of the 67 they would need to overcome a veto. He said supporters are considering at least two possible amendments to attract additional Democratic votes, one on liquefied natural gas exports and another on energy efficiency.

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Hoeven brushed off a question about whether Republicans would insert the Keystone bill to a Department of Homeland Security appropriations measure that Congress will need to pass before a stopgap spending bill expires next month.

The “first order of business is to pass it (the Keystone bill) and we're working on ideas right now to see if amendments can be brought to build more support to get to that 67,” he said. 

The White House said it “strongly opposes” the House version of the bill, H.R. 3, in a Statement of Administration Policy issued Wednesday. The bill “seeks to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether cross-border pipelines serve the national interest by authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline project prior to the completion of the Presidential Permitting process,” the statement said.

The House is expected to vote on the bill before the end of the week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Republicans weren't backing down. “The president is not going to set the agenda for us here in the Senate,” he said. “We have an agenda that we believe helps save and create jobs for Americans.”

The fight over Keystone is likely to provide a template for battles to come: Congressional Republicans push through a bill over a veto threat and then look for another bill, likely an appropriations measure, to attach the legislation to.

House Republicans already are planning to use the Homeland Security bill to try to block the president's executive actions on immigration.

Senate GOP Conference Chairman John Thune said there are other bills that the Keystone measure could be attached to as well, but he didn't name any specific pieces of legislation.

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“This won't be the last you'll hear of it (the Keystone bill), if in fact the president follows through with his veto threat,” said Thune, R-S.D.

The Republican effort to move the bill hit a bump Wednesday when Democrats forced the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to postpone a hearing on the legislation that had been planned for Wednesday morning.  The committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Thursday morning.

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