01/06/2015 12:56 EST | Updated 03/08/2015 05:59 EDT

Obama would veto Keystone bill, White House says

The White House says the U.S. president would veto any legislation that tries to fast track the Keystone XL project even as Republican lawmakers tabled a bill that would do just that in Washington on today.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest says he does not expect Obama would sign any legislation that reaches his desk that woudl unilaterally approve the project, a 1,900-kilometre pipeline that would bring 800,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil to U.S. refineries every day.

The project has been in the works for six years since it was originally pitched by Calgary-based TransCanada Pipelines Ltd., which reiterated its commitment to the project on Tuesday, even amid a cratering oil price that potentially changes the economics somewhat.

"Keystone XL is a project that was needed when oil prices were less than $40 in 2008 when we first made our application, more than $100 last year, or $50 today," CEO Russ Girling said in a statement.

The White House made the declaration on the same day that a newly minted Republican-controlled Congress was ramping up its attempts to move the project forward by tabling a bill in the U.S. Senate to OK the project.

As mandated by the Constitution, the U.S. Senate resumed sitting at noon on Tuesday. One of the first items on the agenda is a bill, sponsored by Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, 53 other Republicans and six Democrats, that would effectively take the issue out of the State Department's jurisdiction.

The Senate bill is identical to one that fell a single vote shy of passage in November, when Democrats controlled the Senate and Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, a Democrat, pushed for a vote to save her Senate seat. She lost.

Supporters said they had 63 votes in favour of the bill, enough to overcome a filibuster but not a presidential veto.

The lower House of Representatives is expected to vote on the bill and pass it on Friday, while the Senate bill seems destined to wind its way through a Byzantine process of riders, which means it would land on the president's desk some time after that.

"There's a lot we can get done together if the president puts his famous pen to use signing bills rather than vetoing legislation his liberal allies don't like," Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said late last year.

A presidential veto is no trifling matter. In his six years in office, Obama has only vetoed two other bills. His predecessor George W. Bush used a veto 12 times, while Bill Clinton did so 37 times during his eight-year presidency.