HELENA, Mont. — U.S. Sen. Max Baucus said cutting taxes and securing approval for a massive oil pipeline are top congressional priorities this year and the Montana Democrat expressed optimism that deals can be reached despite the recent bitter partisan stalemates.
Montana Chamber of Commerce leaders gathering in Helena for a two-day conference also heard from U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, who stressed the need to cut federal spending and criticized President Barack Obama for rejecting a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Tami Christensen, the group’s chairwoman, made it clear that the Obama administration’s decision is a major concern for business leaders as well. Christensen said in opening remarks that such decisions harm the nation’s ability to compete with China and stymie job creation.
Baucus said in remarks to the chamber that he will “make sure the White House gets the message” that the pipeline from Canada to Texas must be approved. Like the rest of the congressional delegation, Baucus believes the pipeline will help boost Montana oil production and provide increased energy security and jobs.
“I do think we should build it. I don’t think we should have our heads stuck in the sand,” Baucus said. “I am going to do my dog-gonnest to make sure that happens.”
Baucus said he will be talking to the White House to see whether an agreement can be worked out.
TransCanada Corp., the pipeline company based in Calgary, Alberta, has said it will reapply and expects the presidential permit to be processed in an expedited manner that would allow the pipeline to go online in late 2014.
The issue has become a political hot potato after Congress forced the president to make a quick decision on the matter and he responded with the rejection.
Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, also said extending the payroll tax cut for a full year is another top priority. He said he wants to work with House Republican leaders on a much more aggressive strategy to simplify the tax code with lower rates.
“It is just too confusing,” Baucus said of the tax structure. “I don’t know that we will be successful on tax reform this year. I am sure going to try. At least we can lay the foundation for successful reform next year.”
Baucus said he is holding weekly meetings with the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee in hopes of finding bipartisan compromise on an issue he said was very complicated.
Baucus, who was part of the so-called Supercommittee that last year was stymied in efforts to reach a bipartisan deal on spending cuts, said he still thinks Republicans and Democrats can reach agreement on the sticky issues despite hyper partisanship.
“We have no choice but to be positive and constructive and find people on the other side of the aisle to work with,” Baucus said.
For his part, Rehberg told the group that debt must be curtailed before it hits a breaking point. Also, he advocated finding another solution for the oil pipeline.
“People are pretty angry. Because Americans know that we need access to our resources,” Rehberg said. “We need to actively manage our resources for the betterment of our communities.”
But Rehberg said he also hopes a deal can be reached, although he is not sure how the partisan stalemates in Washington D.C. will be broken. The Republican said there are too many unsolved issues that something has to give.
“There are so many things coming together at once, there has be a compromise.”