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All the while, House Republicans could be slowly putting Senate Democrats in a jam. The Senate is working on its own two-year energy and infrastructure bill, as opposed to the nearly five-year extension being proposed by the House GOP that would be paid for using revenues derived from oil drilling. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has already declared a package with that sort of funding mechanism as dead on arrival in the Senate.
Republicans could keep the spotlight on the issue if the chambers pass their own bills and debate the issue in conference, or perhaps by pressuring the Senate to take up a House bill that could put Democratic Senators who support the pipeline on the spot.
But Republican leaders have yet to figure out exactly how to broach the topic again. According to House and Senate sources, there is not consensus on how to approach the pipeline from a legislative perspective. One option is to include identical language from the last go-round and force Obama to reject the project again. Another option is to try to find more forceful language. Even then, it's unclear whether Congress could work around the administration to get the pipeline started.
"We can take the president out of it, exercise our authority under the Constitution to deal with foreign commerce — which this would clearly be, between Canada and the United States — but it's pretty hard to wire around the president of the United States and Democrats," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said.
But even Cornyn seemed to acknowledge that it might behoove Republicans to make those decisions later and not let the pipeline get in the way of a popular tax cut extension.
"I think we need to pass a yearlong payroll tax extension, and how we do it is not as important as doing it," said Cornyn, the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman. "So I support the Keystone pipeline extension; I think it's important. But, recognizing President Obama and Senate Democrats are opposed to it, it's hard for us to do it when we're in the minority."
John Stanton contributed to this report.