Feb 24th, President Barack Obama wielded his veto pen for the third time in his presidency. He vetoed a bill that would require the State Department to approve construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The president made clear that his veto was about Congress usurping executive power and not about the pros and cons of the pipeline itself. In other words, this veto was about keeping the decision making power with the administration, which has yet to make a decision.
His veto message was succinct:
I am returning herewith without my approval S. 1, the “Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act.”Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest.
The Presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously. But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people. And because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest — including our security, safety, and environment — it has earned my veto.
This is a foreshadowing of the next couple of years in Washington. The Republican Party holds both the House and the Senate, and so, it will use those majorities to pass legislation that benefits its backers. The president will veto these bills, and they will die a quiet death when the votes aren’t there to over-ride the veto. What the GOP doesn’t quite realize yet, is just how powerful the veto is. This journal has argued that the next two years will look a great deal like the Ford administration. Then, a Democratically-controlled Congress passed 66 bills that the president vetoed. Only 12 of those vetoes were over-ridden; and the Democratic Party then had a bigger majority than the Republicans have even now.
The Republicans could figure out how to compromise with the White House to get the president to sign bills into law rather than veto them. However, the Tea Party faction views any compromise with the president, even to further its reactionary interests, as a sellout, as an example of everything wrong with politics and Washington. Moreover, the Republicans will be trying to create issues for its presidential candidates on which to base the 2016 campaign. These issues will not arise from reaching agreement with the White House but rather from taking an opposite point of view.
For its part, the White House wants to keep control of the pipeline decision to itself, waiting for an opportune time (or the least inopportune time) to choose building it or not.
The great irony here is that the pipeline itself is irrelevant to the question of developing the Alberta tar sands for oil production. The provincial government has decided to either ship the oil to market on tanker trucks and trains (which is much more dangerous than a pipeline) or, if necessary, using a pipeline that goes west or even north instead of the southbound route of the XL.
The battle is being fought in Washington, but in fact, the war is in Alberta’s legislature. Everything else is a diversion;