The XL pipeline is a proposed project to lay a giant tube across the middle of the United States like a belt, a conduit for thick crude oil extracted from the Alberta tar sands flowing south across the Ogllala Aquifer all the way down to Texas, where the oil can be refined in order to be sold for burning. Current environmental protections clearly forbid such a project, but corporations from the fossil fuels industry have been pushing the Obama White House to create special waivers of those protections just for the XL pipeline.
The Obama Administration has so far been friendly to allowing the XL pipeline project to evade rules to protect the Ogllala Aquifer. This summer, however, a huge and prolonged protest took place outside the White House in which Americans demanded that President Obama allow the environmental protections to stay in place, and block the giant crude oil pipeline.
A few weeks ago, Barack Obama attempted to evade political responsibility for the XL pipeline. The Obama Administration announced that a decision about the pipeline would be made only after the 2012 election.
This political ploy was threatened yesterday when the U.S. Senate voted to approve legislation that would force Barack Obama to either approve environmental protections waivers for the XL pipeline or to deny the waivers within just a few months from now. Obama would be forced to choose between the environmentalists who got him elected in 2008 and the big oil corporations that could provide him with major funding for his 2012 campaign.
The Senate Republicans wanted to force the XL pipeline decision for obvious reasons: It’s a political disaster for Barack Obama, who has already alienated environmentalists and has come to rely on corporate backing for re-election campaign. However, the Senate Democrats did obtain a concession in exchange for the XL pipeline push. They got Republicans to agree to allow unemployment benefits to be paid, and the payroll tax cuts to be kept alive… for just two more months.
Just two months of unemployment benefits and a temporary lifeline for payroll tax cuts in exchange for a political time bomb planted in the middle of the 2012 Obama re-election campaign is a terrible deal. It’s not a fair exchange in the first place, but more importantly, this temporary deal allows Republicans to practice yet more political extortion in January and February, when payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits will be up for debate once again.
The deal made in the Senate yesterday is the latest in a long string of rotten deals made by congressional Democrats. The Senate Democrats allowed themselves to be outmaneuvered by the Republicans, negotiating in an open spirit while the Republicans played hardball.
Still, the deal may get even worse. Republicans in the House of Representatives have announced that they may force the Senate to renegotiate the legislation… because they think it’s not hard enough on the Democrats.