Boehner says highway bill fair game for Keystone XL provision

House Speaker John Boehner said Republicans will include a provision to approve the Keystone XL pipeline in a bill reauthorizing highway and mass-transit programs if necessary.

Republicans this week will introduce the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, which would extend surface transportation programs for five years beyond the expiration date of March 31. If Congress doesn’t approve the controversial pipeline before the House takes up its highway bill, Republicans will insert the Keystone XL language, the Ohio Republican told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

“If it’s not enacted before we take up the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, it’ll be part of it,” Boehner said.

Republicans are angry with the Obama administration’s denial of a permit for the TransCanada Corp. tar sands crude pipeline from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries. Obama laid the blame on the GOP, saying a Feb. 21 deadline didn’t let the State Department finish a crucial environmental review. TransCanada has said it will reapply with an alternate route.

Current GOP bills to approve Keystone XL face tough odds getting through the Democratic-held Senate by themselves, but Republicans say they’ll try to wrap them into other legislation just as they did with the 60-day deadline. Beyond the highway bill, they have mulled including the Keystone XL language in a bill to extend the payroll tax break and unemployment benefits through the end of the year.

Already the House GOP bill would tie in expanded drilling offshore and on federal lands to generate revenues to cover some of the legislation’s costs. But Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said that type of provision is too controversial.

“Stay away from the controversy,” Boxer urged of her House GOP colleagues on Thursday.

A Senate committee unanimously cleared a bipartisan agreement on a two-year highway bill last fall.

Additionally Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., introduced Keystone XL proposal he has floated for a while on Monday. His bill would let Congress approve the pipeline under the Constitution’s commerce clause. In a report requested by Hoeven, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said recently that legislation “related to cross-border facility permitting is unlikely to raise significant constitutional questions.”

“Our legislation not only acknowledges the vital national interest this project represents on many levels, but also works in a bipartisan way to begin construction,” Hoeven, whose bill has 42 Republicans and one Democrat as cosponsors, said in a statement.

Another proposal from Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., would transfer State Department authority on the border-crossing pipeline to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and require the latter body to approve it within 30 days or it will be deemed approved.

And a bill from Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, would immediately approve the pipeline.