Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

Will Fight over Keystone Lead to More Pork-Barrel Spending?

Author: David Yee
Created: 30 January, 2015
Updated: 15 October, 2022
3 min read
On Monday, the Senate failed to reach cloture on the Keystone XL measure, signaling a long, bitter fight to come. With a 53-39 vote, cloture failed by 7 votes.

The bitter fight was cut short on Thursday, however, when nine Democrats joined with every Republican to approve construction of the $8 billion project in a 62-36 vote. It is widely expected that once the measure is vetoed by President Obama, Senate Republicans would still need 4 votes to override the veto.

Energy Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), promised to work with Democrats on her committee to consider additional amendments that would enable a veto override.

"Additional amendments" is almost always code for more pork-barrel spending (appropriations targeted at specific lawmakers and their district in exchange for a political favor). So, just how much will those votes be worth in pork?

The Republican Pork Moratorium

In 2010, the Republicans promised to not engage in pork-barrel spending, and have more or less been able to keep that promise.

Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) went so far as to say that pork was a gift from the Founding Fathers to ease gridlock.

In practice, Reid was probably correct -- the 113th Congress had the lowest approval rating of any Congress because of their "Do Nothing" gridlock. Critical bills throughout our history (including most of the Civil Rights Acts) were passed with votes bought through pork.

The question now becomes, are the Republicans going to break the no-pork promise to override a presidential veto on Keystone?

The Dirtier The Oil, The Dirtier The Politics

In 2007, President George W. Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and National Security Act of 2007. This bill overwhelmingly passed the House (314-100) and Senate (86-8) in an unusual show of bipartisanship.

Section 526 of this law bans the federal government from purchasing any fuels made with unconventional oils that are "dirtier" with emissions than conventional oil:

No Federal agency shall enter into a contract for procurement of an alternative or synthetic fuel, including a fuel produced from nonconventional petroleum sources, for any mobility-related use, other than for research or testing, unless the contract specifies that the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production and combustion of the fuel supplied under the contract must, on an ongoing basis, be less than or equal to such emissions from the equivalent conventional fuel produced from conventional petroleum sources. -- Section 526, Energy Independence and National Security Act

The Canadian tar sands, located in Alberta, produce significantly 'dirtier' oil than conventional oil, which means that the single-biggest purchaser of oil products in the United States (the federal government) is prohibited from even buying it.

This, of course, is assuming that President Obama is wrong about all of the oil going overseas.

Behind the scenes, there has been a significant effort to try to repeal this section of the Act, at least opening the possibility of sale to the United States.

A Colossal Waste of Time

Why has the Republican-led Congress wasted all of this time? The longer oil prices stay suppressed, the less political mileage they are going to get with potential voters by forcing the veto.

The American government has much better things to worry about than a Canadian company's stock price, a few dozen (if that) permanent jobs, and the dirtiest oil produced being sent overseas.

Perhaps they can start focusing on the tens of thousands of jobs being lost in America's domestic oil industry, and stop worrying about Canada's well-being.

Photo Source: AP