Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Keystone Quagmire for Obama

Now that the State Department has basically backed President Obama into a corner with its report on the Keystone XL pipeline, what next?

Before we get to that, it's important to mention that the report did NOT say the pipeline wouldn't pose great risks to the environment, only that building it would not worsen carbon pollution. That's because, regardless of what Obama decides, it's going to be built. The only question is whether it goes south through the States to the Gulf of Mexico or west to Vancouver. There is no way the Canadians are going to give up that much revenue, even if it does destroy millions of acres of their pristine land. And you thought America was the only country that could take that much of a dump on the environment.

And then there's the issue of employment. By all accounts the pipeline would net somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 permanent jobs. CVS hires that many people every hour its doors are opened. And, so far as the actual oil being pumped through the pipeline, the overwhelming majority of it will never see its way into American cars or homes. The most likely destination will be foreign countries that have the refineries to convert it. With all the talk about "drill baby drill," the sad fact is that U.S. refineries are at or near peek capacity. They couldn't handle the Keystone oil if they wanted to.

So, with that in mind, what should Obama do? He could say no, which would appease his base and piss off the GOP (like they really needed an excuse to be pissed at him). He could continue to drag his feet and hold off making a decision until after the midterms, which many political pundits believe is the safe play.

But, in my opinion, the smart and only play is to deal and deal now. One way or another that pipeline is getting built, so Obama still holds all the cards for the moment. That gives him leverage. With the Republicans finally agreeing to raise the debt ceiling through the beginning of 2015 and with a two-year budget deal in place, Obama can start to push through some of his agenda. Immigration reform is still a dream that is achievable. A number of establishment Republicans in both Houses have backed it. The Senate bill is still waiting for a vote in the lower chamber. The only thing holding it up is the Tea Party faction, but dissatisfaction with them is growing within the leadership. And then there's the matter of the extended unemployment benefits that expired at the end of last year.

Now is the perfect time for Obama to put on his Monty Hall hat and make a deal with the GOP. You want the Keystone pipeline, okay, here's what I want. Let the Senate immigration bill get an up and down vote in the House and pass a one-year extension of unemployment benefits and I'll sign the authorization to let the pipeline go through the country. Turn me down and I'll let that authorization die of old age.

Now I know that most of you are shrieking at such a suggestion. How could I be in favor of building a pipeline that increases carbon emissions, you ask? Actually, I'm not; the Canadians are. And while it may be a little difficult for environmentalists to hear, they have no jurisdiction or sway on events north of the border. Like I said, the pipeline is going forward; the only question is which direction it takes. If Obama lets this opportunity pass him by, he ostensibly resigns himself to pretty much a wasted year legislatively. And, if the GOP ends up taking the Senate in November - even money at this point - he will be worse than a lame-duck president. He won't be able to buy a ball point pen for the last two years of his second term.

Obama doesn't need to see additional reports on Keystone to make a decision. All he needs is the resolve to extract something positive out of a negative; a talent he has been sadly lacking throughout most of his five years in the Oval office. Now would be a good time to reverse that trend.

Like the old saying goes, when life deals you lemons, you make lemonade. Obama had best start building that lemonade stand while he can.

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