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Keystone XL oil pipeline ensnared in political gamesmanship

Republicans tried to force Obama's hand on the permit to construct the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and now he's forced theirs. The fight may not be over, signaling that energy will be a 2012 campaign issue. 

By Staff writer / January 19, 2012

Demonstrators carry a giant mock pipeline while calling for the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline during a rally in front of the White House in Washington on November 6, 2011. Republicans are saying the president has sided with environmentalists instead of blue collar construction workers in his decision to deny a construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Joshua Roberts/Reuters/File

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Washington

No doubt about it, the proposed 1,700-mile-long Keystone XL oil pipeline has become a political ping-pong ball, with congressional Republicans and President Obama batting it back and forth with rising election-year ferocity.

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In denying a construction permit for the controversial energy project on Wednesday, well ahead of the Feb. 21 deadline for announcing his decision, Mr. Obama caught his congressional adversaries off guard. The Obama campaign then immediately released its first broadcast ad of the 2012 campaign, accusing "secretive oil billionaires" of spreading misinformation about the administration's record on clean energy.

Obama's move, and the previous one by Congress to graft the pipeline decision onto end-of-year legislation to extend the payroll tax cut for American workers for 60 days, indicates that the nation's energy future is likely to be a significant campaign issue in Election 2012. 

The president signaled that his pipeline decision included some tit for tat. “This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline but the arbitrary nature of a [congressional] deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people,” Obama said.

GOP congressional leaders, of course, slammed the decision. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the move “shows a fundamental disconnect with job creation in this country.” House Speaker John Boehner said: “This is not the end of the fight.”

Republicans could yet try to revive the oil pipeline, perhaps by attaching it to upcoming legislation. Congress must soon take up the payroll tax cut, again, and needs to address a looming 27 percent cut in fees to physicians who treat Medicare patients, as well as whether to continue to extend federal jobless benefits.  

A conference committee set up to resolve an impasse over extending the payroll tax cuts through fiscal 2012 has set its first formal meeting for next Tuesday afternoon, upon the Senate's return. Senate Finance chairman Max Baucus (D) of Montana and House Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp (R) of Michigan, the lead negotiators, have begun informal discussions.

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