Pipeline Project Emerges as Marker in Tax Fight

1:55 p.m. | Updated BALTIMORE – House Republicans, undaunted by the payroll tax holiday debacle that dinged their conference last month, said Friday that they were considering using the Keystone XL Pipeline as a chip in the next round of negotiations over the tax break, as part of their overall efforts to push back against White House policies this year.

“We are going to be looking at every option to keep this issue at the forefront,” said Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee and a member of the bicameral conference committee tasked with coming up with a bill to extend the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits through the rest of the year.

Mr. Upton said that reviving the 1,700-mile pipeline project, which would stretch from Canada to the Gulf Coast and which President Obama rejected this week for now, would likely be a contingency Republicans would seek in the tax break negotiations. “Certainly that is within the scope of the conference,” he said.

Mr. Upton made his remarks at a news conference at the House Republican retreat in Baltimore, where his party is plotting its agenda for the second session of the 112th Congress. High on the to-do list of the members, many of whom ditched their suits and ties for bright colored sweaters and too-large jeans, is to relentlessly push back against Mr. Obama’s policies, beginning with Keystone and extending to the budget process.

Upending Mr. Obama administration’s decision on Keystone, which Speaker John A. Boehner said this week was “not the end of the fight,” is one of the central goals of the Republican agenda this year. Republicans chose to highlight the issue in their first news conference here, and this week sent out e-mail blasts highlighting all the editorials from around the country criticizing the president’s decision and drawing attention to Congressional Democrats who oppose it.

“We’re going to do everything we can to keep in on the front burner” Mr. Upton said.

However, using Keystone as a bargaining chip in the negotiations to extend the payroll tax will likely not be fruitful; Democrats on the committee are likely to reject the idea out of hand, and Republicans will have to use legislation in their chamber to further push the matter.

Further, Mr. Boehner has told his members here that if stand-alone legislation does not come to fruition, a Keystone amendment would likely be attached to a coming bill to improve American infrastructure, almost certainly igniting a new battle with Democrats.

The retreat, with its central focus on beating back Mr. Obama’s attempts to essentially run against Congress as he campaigns for re-election, is a marked departure from the 2010 getaway here, when Mr. Obama combatively addressed Republicans as their guest, a year before the party took control of the House.

“What happens is that you guys don’t have a lot of room to negotiate with me,” said Mr. Obama at the time, presaging two more years of intense political battles that more than once led the country to near disaster. “The fact of the matter is, many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable with your own base, with your own party, because what you’ve been telling your constituents is, ‘This guy’s doing all kinds of crazy stuff that’s going to destroy America.’ ”

In remarks to the press Friday, Mr. Boehner said that he would press committee chairmen this year to aggressively oversee the Obama administration’s policies, “and help the American people understand, and help frankly other members of Congress understand, the devastating impact of these policies on our economy.”

Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, who is chairman of the House Republican Conference, said that when President Obama was inaugurated three years ago on Friday, “he promised the American people hope and change.”

“And now we see a nation that has lost hope, but they have seen the change,” he said.

While Mr. Boehner said he hoped that some new job-creating laws could be passed on a bipartisan manner this year, much of the talk from Republican leaders was sharply critical of Mr. Obama, and pointed to the president’s planned trips to swing states in coming weeks as overtly political.

“I may have been born at night,” Mr. Boehner said. “But it wasn’t last night.”

Article source: http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/20/pipeline-project-emerges-as-marker-in-tax-fight/?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

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