WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2015 - Step one in the push to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to pump Canadian tar sands oil to Texas refineries worked just as planned: Keystone legislation has been the first bill debated and voted on by the new GOP-run Senate.

Putting Keystone first was meant to signal that Republicans give top priority to creating jobs, strengthening the U.S. economy, and continuing support for fossil fuels. It was also promoted as proof that Republicans are committed to working with Democrats to pass legislation with genuine bipartisan support.

But the GOP’s step two – passing the Keystone bill with at least six Democrats on board to reach the Senate’s 60-vote threshold and sending it to President Obama this week – hasn’t gone as planned.

Instead, Monday’s two 53-39 votes failed to move Keystone forward because they didn’t reach the 60 vote minimum – in part because four Republicans and two Democrats who were co-sponsors of the Keystone bill were absent. But Democrats were also successful in delaying the bill because three Democratic senators who favor the pipeline -- Jon Tester of Montana, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, and Tom Carper of Delaware -- voted no, helping create the new Senate’s first filibuster.

The Democrats’ blocking maneuver was an apparent protest against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to shut off debate after consideration of two dozen amendments. McConnell chided Democrats for wanting to offer more amendments, noting that they were able to offer more changes to the underlying bill than the GOP was able to offer during all of last year when Democrats controlled the chamber.

So now the debate will continue until next week, with further consideration of some of the 175 Keystone amendments proposed so far, dealing with issues ranging from consideration of eminent domain to Sen. Jerry Moran’s, R-Kansas, plans to delist the lesser prairie chicken from the endangered species list.


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