Passing a viable transportation bill is crucially important for the still-sluggish American economy. Usually, except for fighting over who gets what share of the public works money, political parties cooperate on such bills. They authorize highways, bridges and public transit systems, among other things, projects that create jobs and improved infrastructure that benefits consumers and businesses alike.
But this year the House chose a silly approach: a three-month extension of current authorizations larded down with election-year ideology and nonsense. The Senate's more serious two-year bill keeps the focus on current and future transportation needs. What a concept.
The silliest House provision would grant approval to a Canadian company's controversial application to add about 1,600 miles to an existing 2,100-mile oil pipeline system. TransCanada's Keystone pipeline already runs from northern Alberta to Cushing, Okla., with a spur running across Missouri to refinery and storage facilities at Roxana and Patoka, Ill.
The new Keystone XL proposal adds another pipeline along a different route from Canada to Cushing and then on to Texas refineries in Houston and Port Arthur on the Gulf coast.
As we have noted before, the Keystone XL proposal is a hustle being sold on phony promises of tens of thousands of jobs and environmental safety. This latest Republican-led attempt (with the support of some Democrats and labor unions) to bypass procedural safeguards and force the proposal down America's throat is no more acceptable than the previous failed attempt in January.
That's when President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada's application as not in the national interest, rather than play along with a timetable artificially accelerated by pipeline supporters in what amounted to attempted political blackmail.
Because XL would cross the international border between the United States and Canada, the proposal must be reviewed and approved - both the broad strokes and the fine details - by the State Department. Most of all, before it receives final approval, the president must determine that it advances the national interests of the United States.
Last week, TransCanada filed a new XL application that includes a slightly modified route through Nebraska, supposedly to address genuine concerns in that state about the awful consequences of a pipeline breach on aquifers that supply fresh water for drinking and irrigation to millions of Midwesterners. Environmental groups say the new route does little to ameliorate the threat.
TransCanada, a private, foreign company, also continues to use the power of eminent domain to pressure U.S. landowners to grant easements for the pipeline and, in some cases, to seize property in court. This even though the project has not yet received, and may never receive, authorization.
In reality, not Republican fantasy, Keystone XL would generate only a few thousand jobs and would have little effect on unemployment rates. Much of the oil that would be carried by the pipeline is already under contract to companies that plan to refine and ship it overseas; thus, it would not enhance the security of America's energy supplies.
The transportation conference committee must make sure the final version of the bill is free from any Keystone XL contamination.