Well, that didn't take long. Just one week into the conference committee on the highway bill, Republicans are showing signs of caving on their insistence that the Keystone pipeline be approved as part of the deal.
Throughout the past few months, we have been chronicling how Republicans have been apathetic to the underlying vices of the highway bill (S. 1813). They basically told the Democrats in committee that they have every intention of passing the Senate bill; they just want a provision approving the Keystone pipeline as part of the agreement. As any negotiator that lacks the credulousness of a toddler understands, once you take your bargaining chip off the table, the other side has no reason to give in. Since Republicans have guaranteed Democrats that the tax and spend highway bill is too big to fail, Democrats will wait them out until they agree to jettison the Keystone provision. And that is exactly what is happening.
Take a look at these quotes from The Hill:
Republicans are pressing for approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline in a final House-Senate transportation bill but appear unlikely to draw a line in the sand that jeopardizes the infrastructure legislation.
While the proposed Alberta-to-Texas pipeline is a top GOP and oil-industry priority, Republicans might have incentive to keep the matter unresolved, enabling them to continue using Keystone as a political weapon during the campaign season. [...]
“The overall Republican conference position is not to sink the conference report over [Keystone XL], however, as keeping that issue alive through the elections is also acceptable,” an oil industry source told The Hill.
Let's be straight: the Keystone pipeline should never be used to pass bad legislation. It's just humorous to watch these guys capitulate on their one line in the sand. As we've noted before, there are numerous problems with the underlying bill:
- Taxpayer Bailout of Private Pensions: As part of an oblique effort to raise revenue for the faulty highway trust fund, the Senate bill allows corporations to put less money into company pensions that are backed by the taxpayer-funded Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). This would increase net profits for corporations, and by extension, generate $7 billion more in taxes to Uncle Sam. In addition to serving as a convoluted way to fund the tenuous highway trust fund, it will also expose taxpayers to future bailouts of the PBGC when it becomes clear that the pension plans are underfunded. [read more on this at the Heritage Foundation].
- General Fund Transfer: Just hours before the Senate bill was brought to a floor vote on March 14, Barbara Boxer slipped in a manager’s amendment that contained a provision (section 40313) authorizing a $5 billion general fund transfer to the highway trust fund.
- Nanny-State Enhancement Mandates: James Inhofe, the Republican architect of Boxer’s transportation bill, promised Republicans that the bill offered flexibility to the states for spending their infrastructure dollars, exempting them from the 10% “enhancement” mandates. Well, the manager’s amendment appears to have vitiated that agreement.
- Other Top-Down Mandates and Anti-Free-Market Policies: There are sundry provisions that impose eco-fascism, establish anti-growth “made in America” mandates, discourage private sector investments in infrastructure, and offer giveaways to Big Labor.
- New Bureaucracies: The bill expands the size of government. According to the Washington Letter on Transportation, as cited in Ken Orski’s Innovation News Briefs, the bill creates a new National Endowment for the Oceans, Coasts and Great Lakes, which will be housed in the Department of Commerce. It also provides for a seven-year reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a green program of the National Park Service within the U.S. Department of the Interior.
- Big Brother: The bill mandates that every new motor vehicle beginning in 2015 be equipped with a recording device designed to store data related to vehicle safety.
- IRS out of control: The bill grants authority to revoke passports of those who owe more than $50,000 in unpaid taxes.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of this 1676-page bill. It also serves as a stark reminder why we should not lock up authority for all transportation responsibility in Washington. This is not a bill we should support in any shape or form – Keystone or no Keystone.