Political Animal

Blog

January 23, 2012 8:00 AM Putting Keystone on a ransom note

By Steve Benen

As of a couple of weeks ago, it looked as if House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was eager to avoid another fight over the payroll tax break. The issue had done considerable damage to his caucus in December, and Boehner reportedly didn’t see much of an upside to once again positioning Republicans as fighting for a middle-class tax increase.

But in this Congress, nothing is ever easy, and as of yesterday, Boehner signaled his interest in possibly holding the tax cut hostage before its expiration at the end of February. What would be on the ransom note? The Keystone XL pipeline that President Obama rejected last week.

Here’s an exchange between the House Speaker and Fox News’ Chris Wallace yesterday:

WALLACE: Well, you say all options are on the table. Are you saying that you may link the Keystone pipeline to extending the payroll tax holiday?

BOEHNER: We may. But as I said, all options are on the table.

WALLACE: Now, here’s an interesting question, because what you did this last time is you just said you have to disapprove it again in two months and he disapproved it again as he had before.

Why not demand that if he wants the payroll tax cut, he has to approve it? In other words, it comes with it. You want the payroll tax cut? The pipeline goes with it.

BOEHNER: All options are on the table.

The threat was never explicit, but the Speaker did use the “all options are on the table line” four times in less than a minute.

This would hardly be out of character for the House Republican leadership. On the contrary, it’s become their standard m.o. — they threaten to hurt the country unless Democrats give them something they want. It’s been a near-constant dynamic, played out repeatedly over the last year.

There are a couple of angles to keep in mind as this unfolds over the next couple of weeks. The first is that the Speaker may very well be bluffing — there’s no real harm in seeing what he can extract from the White House — and may have no intention of blocking a payroll-tax-cut extension. The issue has already burned the GOP once. Is Boehner really willing to kill a middle-class tax cut in an election year, allowing the Obama White House to hammer Republicans on this again?

The second is that the Keystone deal is no longer a simple matter of getting a green light from the president. Republicans pushed an artificial deadline on Obama, and left with limited options, he responded by scuttling the project. As Brian Beutler reported this morning, by expediting a formal rejection of the project, Republicans have inadvertently changed the equation dramatically.

If both the U.S. government and Canada support the project, why can’t the White House and TransCanada pick up where they left off in January? It turns out the formal rejection changes the equation quite dramatically.

Reapplying for the project isn’t simple — it’s time consuming and costly, and if the shippers that have partnered with TransCanada decide to take their business elsewhere, the whole thing could go bust.

Boehner may not understand these details — he’s never been a policy guy — but the process isn’t as simple as saying, “I’ll trade you the tax cut for the pipeline.” Logistically, that’s just not an option right now, whether Republicans like it or not.

The irony, of course, is that Boehner and his party were more likely to actually get the pipeline before they started playing partisan games with it.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

Comments

Post a comment
  • Danp on January 23, 2012 8:10 AM:

    The first is that the Speaker may very well be bluffing � there�s no real harm in seeing what he can extract from the White House

    Apparently S&P didn't feel that way after the debt limit bluff. And what's the "real harm" of conducting honest negotiations?

  • c u n d gulag on January 23, 2012 8:16 AM:

    Most of the oil from that pipeline over the aquifer that waters the Midwest, will go over seas.

    But nobody mentions that.

    If only the MSM knew how to tell the truth...

  • DAY on January 23, 2012 8:24 AM:

    But, but- it is SHOVEL READY! And there are a gazillion high paying, union jobs at stake!
    I know this, because the Republicans tell me so.

    Gulag is just nit picking, with his "the oil will go overseas". While that is factually true, it also confusing to the 'drill baby, drill' folks, so let's not talk about it.

  • walt on January 23, 2012 8:26 AM:

    The bluff exists its own made-up world of enviromental wackos killing American jobs because they love snail darters more than hard-working Americans. Do Republicans really care about Keystone otherwise? No. It's just another phony issue in a party of hysterical screamers.
    Apparently, jobs are important only when they lead to environmental degradation for the sake of windfall profits. Otherwise, "industrial policy" is Marxist and must be opposed at all times (unless a rich person gets richer).

  • Vokoban on January 23, 2012 8:32 AM:

    "it’s become their standard m.o. — they threaten to hurt the country unless Democrats give them something they want."

    Wrong, Mr. Benen. It's "unless Democrats give them ALL they want."

    The other thing would be compromise. Yeuch!

  • c u n d gulag on January 23, 2012 8:35 AM:

    DAY,
    And the funny thing is, it will NOT provide gazillion's of jobs.

    It'll be the same contractors, some of them Canadian, working the entire length of the pipeline - with a few locals tagging along.

  • lou on January 23, 2012 8:37 AM:

    No politician, rep or dem, in his right mind asks any of the underlying questions about the need for the oil sand or the pipeline. Instead everyone goes along with the groupthink, led by the fossil fuel industries, that the country will need 20% more energy by 2025.

    Why does no one counter that the country, in its often stated need to reduce its dependence on oil, has the option of reducing its consumption of all fossil fuels by 20% by 2025?

    Jeez, not a single god damned politician out there has any freaking balls to attempt to lead this country away from its fatal delusions. Instead we get these insane games and squabbling about how this inevitable course, the building of this pipeline, is going to take place.

    Exceptionally insane.

  • Anonymous on January 23, 2012 8:43 AM:

    I suppose the option of approving the parts or parts of the non-environmentally sensitive part of the pipeline was not an option. This way it gets kicked down the road, the GOP looks sillier than they are...

  • AndThenThere'sThat on January 23, 2012 9:05 AM:

    Boehner may not understand these details hes never been a policy guy but the process isnt as simple as saying, Ill trade you the tax cut for the pipeline.

    OTOH Republican voters aren't policy people either. Red meat eaters are what they are, and Boehner knows he needs to keep feeding that beast.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on January 23, 2012 9:07 AM:

    Obama's said to be a good poker player, so i'm sure he knows that against a compulsive bluffer, you act passive, let him keep bluffing, and call him down without needing an outstanding hand yourself.

  • Darsan54 on January 23, 2012 9:27 AM:

    Obama should call Johnny B's bluff. Point out the environmental problems, the lack of US jobs and the minimal effect it will have on supply. Call the Boner on his bluff.

  • fostert on January 23, 2012 9:31 AM:


    There is one easy way to at least get the Republicans to be honest about the jobs aspect of this project. Fine Keystone XL $200K per year for every American job less than the promised 100K jobs. The actual number of jobs will be closer to 5K, so this would raise $19 Billion per year in fines. The Republicans will obviously balk, so let them come up with a number accurate enough for the project to avoid the fines. Like say, 5K. And then lets throw in some automatic fines for any spill. So let's call it $5K for ever gallon of oil spilled, with a complete shutdown requires until the fines are paid in full. If the project's backers really believe this pipeline is as safe as they say it is, there will be no fines. Just force them to gamble on how safe it really is.

  • chi res on January 23, 2012 9:33 AM:

    WALLACE: Why not demand that if he wants the payroll tax cut, he has to approve it? In other words, it comes with it. You want the payroll tax cut? The pipeline goes with it.

    I know I should probably be used to it by now, but it still seems strange to have representatives from a cable network, on air, explicity proposing republican strategy for opposing the president.

    Just part of the brave new world we live in, I suppose.

  • g on January 23, 2012 9:45 AM:

    Wait, what exactly is he going to put in the bill? The last one was an accelerated deadline to approve or disapprove. So it was disapproved.

    In terms of legislation - what can they put in the bill? An unconditional approval of a single project? How's that work?

  • chi res on January 23, 2012 9:55 AM:

    No politician, rep or dem, in his right mind asks any of the underlying questions about the need for the oil sand or the pipeline. Instead everyone goes along with the groupthink, led by the fossil fuel industries, that the country will need 20% more energy by 2025.

    Why does no one counter that the country, in its often stated need to reduce its dependence on oil, has the option of reducing its consumption of all fossil fuels by 20% by 2025?

    Actually, Obama has called for an overall reduction of oil consumption of 35% by 2030.

  • Texas Aggie on January 23, 2012 9:57 AM:

    I can understand why both Wallace and Boehner don't understand that a president can't just approve a project that by law requires an environmental statement. Neither of them is very bright, and they've seen how Perry runs TX by appointing political allies who overrule actual competent people who say the project will be a disaster.

    But both of them have aides who surely realize that the US isn't TX writ large. By now both of them must understand that a whole different set of rules applies to the US.

  • ComradeAnon on January 23, 2012 10:34 AM:

    This pipeline will happen. The route will be changed, but it will happen. And soon. I'd love to see Boehner hold the tax cut elimination, or anything, hostage to it's passage.

  • Th on January 23, 2012 10:35 AM:

    One aspect that gets overlooked is that Keystone already operates pipelines carrying the tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries in Illinois and Oklahoma. The issues are that they want to send oil in a Free Trade Zone in the Gulf so they can sell to anyone with money and a boat and there is already more oil being piped to Oklahoma than they can refine. Another pipeline company bought a half-interest in a line from the Gulf to Oklahoma last fall and they are going to reverse the flow to ship the overflow in Oklahoma down to the Gulf to sell. This will start this spring. The Republicans know they can play games with the XL pipeline for years without doing serious harm to oil companies.

  •  
  •  
  •