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House GOP leaders (AP/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite)

Bipartisan backlash

Politics | Members from both parties question President Obama's decision to block a job-creating oil pipeline

WASHINGTON-It is no surprise that conservatives blasted President Barack Obama's Wednesday decision to reject a bid to build a job-creating pipeline that would carry oil from Canada to refineries in Texas.

House Speaker John Boehner said the move to block the 1,700-mile, $7 billion pipeline, called the Keystone XL project, would cost tens of thousands of jobs and surrender the nation's energy security to China.

"The president is selling out American jobs for politics," said Boehner, alluding to the left-leaning environmental groups that oppose the pipeline. Some liberal Obama supporters had threatened to cease campaign donations if the Obama administration gave the project a green light.

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Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Obama's decision shows a fundamental disconnect with job creation in this country: "Since when is the creation of thousands of jobs not in the national interest as the president now claims?"

Both Boehner and McConnell, also not surprisingly, vowed to fight the decision.

What is surprising are the protests coming from members of Obama's own party. This Democrat backlash reveals just how volatile this move may become during a presidential election year.

Rep. Joe Donnelly, D- Ind., told ABC News that he is "very disappointed" in the decision: "They are missing an opportunity to create thousands of jobs in America."

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., told the Associated Press that the project is not dead. "My personal view is that it should be constructed," he said. "It's clear Canada is going to develop this resource, and I believe it is better for our country to have it go here rather than Asian markets."

With even union groups supporting the project, Obama's team will face pressure to revisit the pipeline.

It is no wonder that the president initially tried to put off this decision until after November's elections. But Congress last December forced the president's hand. Lawmakers inserted into the two-month payroll tax cut extension bill a mandate that gave the president a two-month timetable to act on the pipeline. The provision gave Obama the authority to block the project only if he believed the pipeline wasn't in the national interest.

The president seemingly agreed to this deadline when he signed the payroll tax extension into law just before Christmas. But, in his statement Wednesday announcing the decision against the pipeline, Obama used the mandate in an attempt to blame Republicans.

"The rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline's impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment," he said.

It is a politically risky decision that Republicans will try to hammer home to voters in the coming months, particularly if the job market remains dismal.

"This decision will deny Americans 20,000 new jobs at a time when unemployment has been higher than 8 percent for 35 straight months," said Rep. Randy Hultgren, R- Ill., previewing the rhetoric Republicans will use to keep the Keystone project an election year lightning rod.

The president's own Job Council made his decision even trickier by releasing a report on Tuesday that called new pipeline construction a good idea for economic growth and energy security.

White House officials on Wednesday also tried to blame the decision on questions about the project's environmental impact raised by the governor of Nebraska, who, White House press secretary Jay Carney repeatedly stressed, is a Republican.

But Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman told Governors Journal that an alternate route could easily be located in Nebraska while the pipeline is constructed in other states. "I don't understand why [Obama] just doesn't say yes," he said.

Accusing Republicans of playing politics by inserting the 60-day deadline into last December's payroll legislation ignores the fact that many congressional Democrats voted for the bill. It also denies the political intent behind Obama's original desire to avoid angering either job seekers or environmentalists by delaying the decision until after this November.

"When President Obama previously announced that his administration would avoid making a decision on this project until after the election, he showed clearly how far this White House is willing to go to place politics above sound policy and the need for jobs in America," said Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga.

Listen to a report on the Keystone pipeline decision on WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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