WASHINGTON -- Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling defended Sunday the president's decision not to veto a congressional deal to extend the payroll tax cut and the delivery of unemployment benefits by two months, despite the inclusion of a provision forcing Obama to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.
Obama had vowed to veto any bill that required the Keystone XL pipeline to be approved; Sperling noted Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" program that the deal only requires Obama to make a decision on the pipeline's permit within 60 days -- not to actually implement the pipeline.
"The president did make clear that he was not going to allow congress to tie to that vote something that would mandate or force him to accept the keystone permit when there was not adequate time to do a health and safety environmental review," Sperling said. "Because nothing in this bill mandates the president to do that, this ... whether wise or not, did not go against his veto threat."
Republicans had been pushing to ensure that approval for the new pipeline be part of any legislative package that extended unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut for working Americans. But environmental groups have made vocal objections to the Keystone XL pipeline, putting major pressure on the administration to delay approval until alternate pipeline routes can be considered. The proposal has the Keystone XL pipeline going through the Nebraska sand hills, a unique environmental region that has long been protected by both the government and nonprofit environmental groups.
The legislative jockeying over the pipeline involves more than a hint of irony, however, since the Obama administration originally supported pushing through the pipeline quickly, downplaying potential environmental effects. As HuffPost's Joshua Hersh reported, the State Department put paltry resources into a review of the pipeline's environmental impact, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying she was "inclined" to support the pipeline, even though that review had not yet been completed.
Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) seized on the administration's past support for the pipeline, and said that if the administration had wanted an environmental review, they should have conducted one at some point during the past three years that the pipeline has been under consideration.
"That's nonsense, they've had three years," Boehner said. "This was about to be approved last summer, so waiting and waiting and waiting is not the answer. It's time to proceed with the pipeline." Boehner said the president is "just kicking the can down the road because it may anger some people in his base."