For years now Democrats have stymied the build-out of oil pipelines, most notably the Keystone XL pipeline which, far from being unique, would add to thousands of miles of already existing Keystone pipelines in Canada and the United States. The State Department, under President Obama, has refused to sign off on the part of the pipeline which would cross the U.S./Canadian border, and in Congress Democrats have used their majority in the Senate to stymie attempts to overrule Obama through legislation.
But now, suddenly, Democrats seem to be on board with the Keystone pipeline (or they’re at least considering it). Not so much because they’ve finally recognized that the pipeline would be good for our economy, and good for trade relations with our neighbors to the north, and good for ending the rail backlogs that are hurting agriculture across the midwest ( and which contributed to an ugly propane shortage last winter). Rather, Democrats seem to be suddenly on board with Keystone because they have something to gain politically:
A senior Senate Democratic aide said in an interview that a Keystone approval vote in the lame duck session is under consideration but no decision has been made.
Another congressional aide said the measure to approve TransCanada’s pipeline could come as an amendment to a must-pass defense authorization bill.
Adam Jentleson, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s spokesman, did not confirm the possible vote, which was first reported by Bloomberg.
Aides say a vote on the pipeline would be intended to bolster Landrieu, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Landrieu, seeking a fourth six-year term, faces Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy in a run-off election on Dec. 6 after neither of them won more than 50 percent of the vote last week. Landrieu is one of a handful of congressional Democrats who have long supported of the pipeline.
Politically speaking, this might be a good move for Democrats. They’ve already lost the Senate, so they don’t stand to be hurt much by rankling their base of left-wing environmental activists, and North Dakota Senator John Hoeven seems confident that he’ll have the votes to pass a Keystone bill anyway in the new Republican-controlled Senate. So instead of remaining obstinate to the end, a bit of pragmatism in the last remaining weeks of the Senate majority might just help them keep their minority one seat larger than it would have been otherwise.
Though it’s not at all clear that Landrieu could pull out a victory in Louisiana’s run-off election even with a victory on Keystone under her belt.
Still, politics aside, this is a grossly cynical sort of partisan politics. Approving the Keystone pipeline has always been good policy. The Democrats have never been right in opposing it. But at least, in opposing it, they were exercising the courage of their convictions.
Casting a lame duck vote for Keystone only as a political ploy robs them even of that moral high ground.