Republicans Plot New Strategy for Keystone Pipeline, Eyeing Debt-Ceiling Bill

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Calif., leaves the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July, 11, 2012, after the Republican-controlled House voted 244-185 to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (National Journal)

Frustrated by their inability to mandate construction of the Keystone XL pipeline through legislation, congressional Republicans are plotting yet another attempt to pressure President Obama to approve a permit for the controversial project, this time by tying it to the looming debt-ceiling vote.

In a meeting of the House Republican Conference last week, House leadership also discussed adding other energy riders to debt-ceiling legislation pulled from bills that have already passed the House either this year or in the 112th Congress, according to a House GOP aide.

Keystone XL is now certain to be included in the bill, the aide said, along with a number of other measures aimed at reducing regulations and easing permits for energy producers. The measures under consideration would give Congress broad authority to weigh in on regulations issued by the executive branch, a move GOP lawmakers hope would allow Congress to block Environmental Protection Agency attempts to regulate carbon emissions from new and existing power plants.

Other provisions likely to end up in a debt-limit bill include titles from legislation to expand offshore energy production and oil and natural-gas drilling on federal lands. "House Republicans are advocating for pro-growth measures to be included in any agreement to raise the government's borrowing authority, so adding swift approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is an easy fit," House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a statement last week.

McCarthy argued that the pipeline, which would carry crude from oil sands in Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, would "create tens of thousands of jobs, reduce our spending on overseas oil, and increase America's investment and competitiveness throughout the world."

On the other side of Capitol Hill, Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, John Hoeven of North Dakota, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina support the House GOP push to link Keystone approval with debt-limit legislation. And in an unusual bipartisan news conference last week, two Democrats — Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Begich of Alaska — joined Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in calling for immediate approval of the full pipeline by the Obama administration.

"We have delayed building the Keystone XL pipeline for far too long," Manchin said. "Let's not waste another minute debating the approval of the Keystone pipeline and finally begin its construction."

The senators' statements came on the same day the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing to mark the five-year anniversary of the initial permit application for the project. The filing of that application in 2008 by TransCanada began a long journey for the project that included a postponement, then a denial, of the permit by the president after Republicans forced a bill through Congress requiring a decision within three months. TransCanada has since filed a new application, but studies of the environmental impacts of the project are still being conducted by the State Department, which must approve the permit because the pipeline would cross the border.

The GOP-controlled House has already passed seven bills demanding approval of the project, but none of them have advanced in the Democratic-controlled Senate.