Democrats caving on Keystone?

posted at 11:01 am on April 20, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Republicans have held two important votes on the Keystone XL pipeline this year, forcing Barack Obama and Democrats to take positions opposed to its construction.  As the elections approach and gas prices keep rising, though, fewer Democrats seem ready to go on record to back Obama.  The most recent vote produced a veto-proof majority in the House in favor of approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, and Byron York writes that the opposition in the Senate might be weakening as well:

When the House voted on the pipeline in July of last year, 47 Democrats broke with the president. Now that it’s an election year and the number is up to 69, look for Republicans to hold more pipeline votes before November. GOP leaders expect even more Democrats to join them.

Then there is the Senate. Democrats are using the filibuster to stop the pipeline, which means 60 votes are required to pass it. (Some Democrats who bitterly opposed the filibuster when Republicans used it against Obama initiatives are notably silent these days.) In a vote last month, 11 Senate Democrats stood up against Obama to vote in favor of the pipeline. Add those 11 to the Republicans’ 47 votes, and the pro-pipeline forces are just a couple of votes away from breaking Harry Reid’s filibuster.

“We’re right around the corner from actually passing it,” says a well-informed Senate source. “Two-hundred-ninety-three votes in the House is a gigantic number. People want this thing.”

The president didn’t help his cause when he staged an odd photo-op last month, delivering a speech in Cushing, Oklahoma in front of huge stockpiles of pipes. Obama sang the praises of pipelines — “It is critical that we make pipeline infrastructure a top priority,” he said — and made a big deal of his approval of a section of domestic pipeline that didn’t need his approval. But he remained unyielding on Keystone.

In the latest House vote, the pipeline measure is attached to a larger transportation bill. That now goes to a conference with the Senate, which has passed a version of the transportation measure without the Keystone provision. It’s not clear whether the pipeline will end up in the final bill. But it is certain that, whatever happens, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will force another vote on Keystone sometime.

The photo-op wasn’t really all that odd.  Obama wants to eat his cake and have it, too, by blocking construction while praising the pipeline.  He can’t afford to be seen as too hostile to domestic refining of Canada-produced crude, which is why he has rested his objections on the route taken by the pipeline rather than the pipeline itself. That dodge won’t last much longer, though; the company has submitted permit requests for a new route, and the erosion of opposition in his own party will eventually make this an untenable position for Obama, and he knows it.  Expect him to pounce on the new route application as a catalyst for preliminary approval — and then to stall the final approvals needed within the bureaucracy, where he can act without too much observation.

That’s not the only wave of disapproval coming from his fellow Democrats these days, either.  The Hill reports that recent remarks by Barney Frank on ObamaCare has opened the floodgates of criticism … just as constituents start paying attention to the upcoming election:

An increasing number of Democrats are taking potshots at President Obama’s healthcare law ahead of a Supreme Court decision that could overturn it.

The public grievances have come from centrists and liberals and reflect rising anxiety ahead of November’s elections.

Ya think?  Democrats tried running on the “ObamaCare is a great idea” platform in 2010, and look how well that turned out for them.  Democrats in Congress — well, those still in Congress — aren’t about to defend the tremendously unpopular legislation again.  You’ll hear arguments like the one from Dennis Cardoza, who claims to have tried to stop it:

Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) also criticized his party’s handling of the issue, and said he repeatedly called on his leaders to figure out how they were going to pay for the bill, and then figure out what they could afford.

Cardoza, who like Miller will retire at the end of the Congress, said he thought the bill should have been done “in digestible pieces that the American public could understand and that we could implement.”

Unfortunately for Obama, that will result in something of a mixed message in the fall.  Obama has to defend ObamaCare in this election; other than Dodd-Frank and the Lily Ledbetter Act, it’s his only real legislative accomplishment.  He’s not going to spend his time talking about the success of “shovel-ready” projects, after all.  If he’s talking about how terrific ObamaCare is while his fellow Democrats in the House and Senate campaign on what a screw-up it is, that’s not going to help any Democrats in this cycle.

Right now, though, it looks like Democrats on Capitol Hill aren’t concerned about loyalty to a sinking Obama.  It’s every politician for him/herself.


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