Although Senate support for a measure that would mandate approval of the Keystone XL pipeline has been growing, the majority of National Journal’s Energy & Environment Insiders say the proposal is doomed to fail for the third time.
Nearly 80 percent of Insiders surveyed said that Senate Republicans will not be able to get enough Democrats on board to pass the Keystone pipeline measure as part of the pending transportation funding legislation.
Although 58 senators previously supported an amendment from Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., for the pipeline’s approval and Republicans have said the measure is gaining momentum, Insiders predict that few lawmakers will want to hold up the transportation bill over the controversial project. Moreover, Insiders said, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will find a way to make sure enough Democrats oppose the amendment to circumvent its inclusion.
“Senator Reid will surely peel off enough Democratic votes to avoid a potential embarrassment for President Obama,” said one Insider.
Obama denied a permit for the project earlier this year. Having Congress mandate its approval would certainly put the administration—and congressional Democrats—in an uncomfortable position.
“Senate Democrats will want to get there—the President will not allow them to do so. He has made his bed on this, and, despite the reality of the politics and public will being on the other side, he can’t allow his party to walk away from him,” said another Insider.
One Insider contended that at this point, most people probably assume the pipeline will move forward after the November election, when politics will be taken out of the equation.
Obama has given the nod to construction of the southern portion of the pipeline. Also, in the last month, the state of Nebraska signed off on reviewing a new route, and TransCanada, the company hoping to build the pipeline, has proposed such a route.
“Don’t we all think this gets approved after the election, regardless of who wins?” that Insider asked, noting that there is no need for Congress to push it forward.
However, 21 percent of Insiders said the measure might just get the support it needs now, arguing that “Republicans love Keystone more than Democrats hate it,” and if it comes down to being the only obstacle to passing the highway bill, it will go through.
In addition, Insiders argued that Democrats would just love to get the issue out of the public eye, where it has lingered since last November. The Senate has voted on the project three times now, passing it once as part of the eleventh-hour payroll-tax deal in December and rejecting it twice this year.
Meanwhile, most Insiders — nearly 60 percent — agreed that despite the controversy surrounding the renomination of Republican Kristine Svinicki to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Senate will indeed confirm her before her term expires on June 30, citing the political pressure surrounding her appointment.
Last week, the White House said that it would renominate the commissioner, defying the wishes of Reid, who had been pressuring the administration to hold her nomination back.
Whether Svinicki is confirmed will depend on how strongly Reid and Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., oppose her, but Insiders are confident that she will be back for a second term on the commission.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said last week that the president wants to have a nominee in place so there are no NRC vacancies while the commission is addressing critical safety issues in the nuclear-power industry, and most Insiders agree that this will be the case.
“While sometimes slow, the Senate can often act best when under a deadline,” one Insider said.
Insiders noted that there will be a lot of pressure on Reid to bring Svinicki's confirmation vote to the floor so that there is no vacancy.
“This is a dangerous game for Reid to play,” an Insider said. “If she isn't confirmed, Reid will be vulnerable to claims that he's playing politics with nuclear safety. Plus, he doesn't want to draw any further attention to the mess his guy [NRC Chairman Gregory] Jaczko is in.”
Another, 29 percent of the Insiders polled predicted that Svinicki will be confirmed, but that it will happen after her term expires at the end of June. Another 12 percent of Insiders said they think she will not be confirmed at all.