A Republican lawmaker predicted Wednesday that the pipeline will wind up tied to a future bill that Democrats overwhelmingly agree with — perhaps on infrastructure funding.
He made that prediction as current pipeline legislation devolves into a meandering partisan debate in the Senate, pitting all Republicans against most Democrats and a president who's already vowed to veto it.
The president even poked fun at Congress for taking up the measure, during his state of the union address this week. He urged lawmakers to shift their priorities toward a major infrastructure bill, which he said would create 30 times more jobs than a single oil pipeline from Canada.
The chairman of a congressional committee suggested a solution Wednesday: marrying the two measures into one bill.
''(Obama) may veto this thing, and we may not have the votes to overturn it,'' Pete Sessions, chair of the House of Representatives rules committee, told a radio show in his home state of Texas, in reference to the current bill.
''But he's going to see it on a transportation infrastructure bill. And we're going to give it to him with (a veto-proof majority of) 400 votes. And we're going to get the Keystone pipeline.''
Pipeline opponent Jane Kleeb joked in a tweet that the project could become the Republicans' ''new Obamacare'' — an issue where they expend considerable energy in a succession of failed efforts to overturn the president's signature health law.
As it stands now, the current Keystone bill faces partisan deadlock. Even if it has enough votes to override a congressional filibuster, it hasn't attracted the kinds of substantive amendments that might have tempted President Barack Obama to climb down from his veto threat.
A series of votes on amendments to the bill turned into an exercise in semantics Wednesday, with most Democrats on one side and most Republicans on the other.
One of the Senate's most spirited deniers of global warming agreed to support one Democratic amendment designed as a political trap for his party.
The amendment proclaimed climate change real. Jim Inhofe surprised the chamber by announcing he'd support the amendment, and he encouraged his fellow Republicans to do the same.
There was a catch. Inhofe prefaced the vote by insisting it wasn't humans' fault.
''Climate has always changed and always will,'' said Inhofe, the new Republican chair of the Senate environment committee and leading critic of global-warming efforts.
''There's archeological evidence of that, there's biblical evidence of that, there's historical evidence of that. It will always change. The hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful they can change climate.
''Man can't change climate."
Inhofe went on to describe climate-change theory as a fraud cooked up by the United Nations, on the basis of faulty science that he called an international scandal.
With that monumental asterisk added, Republicans voted en masse for the amendment and the Senate agreed by a margin of 98-1 that climate change is happening. Only Roger Wicker of Tennessee voted against.
A little later Wednesday afternoon, the Senate fell just short of the 60-vote supermajority required to introduce an amendment that climate change is real — and caused by humans.
Both sides might agree on one thing: the Keystone XL bill currently before the Senate has not changed in any substantive way since the president threatened to veto it.
Assuming Obama refuses to sign the pipeline bill, as he's promised to, that still leaves him having to make an announcement about whether he'd approve the project through the standard regulatory process.
A decision could come within weeks.
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