The Sad Beginning of Obama’s “Veto Era”

Apparently, a new era of Obama’s presidency has begun: The veto era. Christi Parsons and Kathleen Hennessey report for the LA Times:

Obama’s rejection of a bill that would have ordered approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline came with minimal fanfare. The White House did not even publicly release word of the decision, which was widely anticipated, until after Senate officials announced they had received the veto message.

Nonetheless, the moment marked a milestone. Until Tuesday, Obama had vetoed only two bills in more than six years. Already this year, the White House has issued more than a dozen veto threats.

At this point the purported merits and demerits of the bill have been well stated, indeed they have been overstated. The USA Today editorial board put it succinctly: “The pipeline is neither as magnificent as its promoters claim nor as apocalyptic as detractors say. It’s just a pipeline, like thousands of miles of other pipelines that crisscross the USA.”

Exactly. There is nothing extraordinary about this particular infrastructure project other than the fact that it has become such a political lightning rod. There are several things that aren’t in dispute.

First, it would create at least 42,000 jobs. That’s not enough to make a meaningful difference in the larger economy, but it is enough that it shouldn’t be ignored. Second, regardless of whether the pipeline is built Canada is still going to export crude oil and U.S. refineries are still going to import crude oil. The pipeline simply prevents Canada from exporting to China and the United States importing from the Middle East.

Third, and most frustrating, the permit process begun nearly seven years ago, during which time the State Department investigated every imaginable issue and found no substantial concerns. Indeed a similar pipeline—the Alberta Clipper project, which shipped oil sands petroleum from Canada to the US—was approved in 2009 after a normal review process.

In that case the State Department even issued a press release saying that “the addition of crude oil pipeline capacity between Canada and the United States will advance a number of strategic interests of the united states.” Those interests include: “increasing the diversity of available supplies among the United States’ worldwide crude oil sources,” sending a “positive economic signal, in a difficult time economic period, and being a “shovel-ready project” that “will provide construction jobs for workers.”

So what’s different? Sadly, nothing, except that the Keystone XL became publicized and then politicized by the left. And if there is one thing that motivates this White House, it’s certainly not policy interests, it’s political calculations. Initially, their goal was to simply put off making a decision on the issue until after the 2010 midterms, so as not to rile up the environmental wing of the Democratic Party. That turned out not to be enough and President Obama continued moving deadlines and requesting additional reviews through 2012 and 2014.

None of that stopped Republicans from strengthening their hand in the House of Representatives or winning a majority in the U.S. Senate. And now the political calculation has changed to simple pettiness. President Obama simply wants to frustrate a stated Republican priority in order to flex his muscles and show the power of his veto pen.

The veto is this White House’s last remaining tool and they apparently intend to use it. Unsurprisingly, the media has gobbled up this “new era” storyline with aplomb, going so far as to do an expose on the brand of pen that President Obama uses to sign his vetoes. But the real story isn’t about a new era, nor about a tonal shift; and it’s certainly not about a physical pen. No, this story is about a simple pipeline and the desperate political lengths this president will go to make Republicans look like villains.