Keystone backers try to hitch ride on Senate highway bill

WASHINGTON Fri Feb 10, 2012 5:02pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican senators who back the Keystone XL pipeline plan to file an amendment that would attach the project to highway funding legislation on Monday, another step in their quest to overturn President Barack Obama's decision to put the project on hold.

The latest congressional push to advance TransCanada's $7 billion project comes from John Hoeven, Richard Lugar, and David Vitter, who developed legislation that would allow work to begin immediately on all but the sensitive Nebraska portion of the Canada-to-Texas project.

They are now seeking to attach the Keystone legislation to the Senate's bipartisan highway funding bill, a two-year, $109 billion plan to upgrade roads, bridges and transit systems that has received backing from the White House.

The senators will file their amendment on Monday, Hoeven aide Ryan Bernstein told Reuters.

Senate leaders are still trying to determine which amendments will get a vote. If the Keystone measure makes it to the Senate floor, it would require 60 votes to approve.

Republicans have sought to make Keystone and the jobs it would create a key issue in the 2012 elections.

There are currently 47 Republicans in the U.S. Senate, although a number of Democrats have said in the past they support the pipeline.

The House of Representatives is also weighing whether to attach Keystone legislation to its five-year, $260-billion highway and infrastructure package.

The Senate and House have been unable to agree on long-term funding for transportation since the last package expired in 2009, and have relied on a series of temporary spending measures. The current one expires on March 31.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

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