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House includes pipeline in transportation bill, set for Senate battle

By Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times –

WASHINGTON — The Republican-controlled House on Wednesday passed a transportation bill that would advance the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, defying a White House veto threat and stoking an election-year fight over what Congress can do about gas prices.

The 293-127 vote to extend highway and transit funding through September sets up contentious negotiations with the Democratic-led Senate. The Senate rejected an effort to include the Canada-to-Texas pipeline project in its two-year, $109 billion transportation bill.

The Obama administration also warned that the president’s advisers would recommend he veto the House bill, if it reaches his desk, because it “seeks to circumvent a long-standing and proven process for determining whether cross-border pipelines are in the national interest” and for assessing Keystone XL’s environmental impact.

Republicans sought to use the pipeline project to highlight the parties’ differences on energy policy as gas prices become a campaign issue.

“Our constituents are feeling real pain at the pump,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. “Maybe since the president doesn’t fill up his own gas tank, he does not fully appreciate this reality.”

Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., called Republican assertions that the pipeline would bring down fuel prices “hooey.”

“What’s going on here is political,” he said.

Passage of a transportation bill has been complicated by election-year politics and a gas tax that isn’t bringing in as much money because more people are driving fuel-efficient cars. House Republican leaders also have struggled to unify members of their own party behind a multiyear transportation bill.

Wednesday’s vote could, nonetheless, move lawmakers closer to completing work on a transportation bill, which both parties have called an important jobs measure.

“The American people are calling on us. Stop the bickering. Stop the baloney,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla.

The House measure would be the 10th extension of highway and transit funding since the last big transportation bill expired in 2009.

Transportation officials have called passage of a transportation bill critical to their ability to plan traffic-easing projects. Los Angeles officials also are eager for Congress to pass a bill that expands a federal loan program crucial to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s efforts to accelerate local transportation systems.

The House measure gives the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission 30 days to issue a permit for the pipeline. It also includes a provision eagerly sought by Gulf Coast lawmakers that would steer 80 percent of the penalties paid by BP for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill to help restore coastal ecosystems and rebuild economies in the region.

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