This was a vote on a Republican amendment that would have opened up vast new stretches of publicly owned land to oil drilling, forced the federal government to allow construction of a controversial oil pipeline, and renewed a diverse and mostly popular set of tax breaks on everything from small business expenses to adoption.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) offered the amendment during consideration of a bill that would fund road construction, bridges, mass transit, and other transportation projects around the nation. The amendment was unusual because it dealt with such a large and diverse array of issues that weren’t directly related to transportation. But Sen. Roberts argued that the amendment was critical because it would help middle-class Americans who were struggling with high gasoline prices, which are related to transportation.
Many of the tax breaks included in Sen. Roberts’ amendment are popular among both Republicans and Democrats. However, the amendment would have allowed oil drilling in sensitive areas in the Rocky Mountains and on the west coast, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The amendment also would have overridden the Obama Administration’s denial of an application to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which would connect Canada’s oilfields to the United States. Opponents of the pipeline worried about potential oil spills and the pipeline’s effect on greenhouse gas emissions. They also argued that it would do far more to line the pockets of oil companies than to lower gas prices.
Sen. Roberts argued that construction of the pipeline and expansion of oil exploration would help bring down gas prices. Along with the popular tax breaks, “this amendment is an important first step in growing our economy,” he said.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) called the amendment “a disappointing attempt to play politics” with the popular tax breaks. She and other Democrats said that while they support the tax breaks for middle-class families, they could not support them at the cost of energy policy they said would harm the environment and the economy.
Sen. Roberts’ amendment was defeated by a vote of 41-57. Voting “yea” were 38 Republicans and 3 Democrats. Voting “nay” were 50 Democrats and 7 Republicans. As a result, the federal transportation bill moved forward without provisions that would expand oil drilling on publicly owned land, approve the Keystone XL pipeline, and provide a set of popular but unrelated tax breaks to middle-class Americans.