WASHINGTON The U.S. Senate will likely pass a bill approving the long-pending Keystone XL oil pipeline on Thursday, a measure the White House said President Barack Obama would veto.
Republicans have made approving Keystone their top priority of the new Congress after winning control of the Senate in November. But they are several votes shy of the 67 needed in the 100-member chamber to override any veto.
The project cleared a hurdle on Thursday as senators voted 62-35 to limit debate on the bill. The Senate will vote after 2:30 p.m. EST on the final bill that would bypass the Obama administration's review of Keystone.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Keystone would be good for the middle class and "pump billions" of dollars into the economy.
Obama has raised new questions about the number of jobs it would create and said that Keystone would mainly benefit the company that wants to build the pipeline, TransCanada Corp, not U.S. gasoline consumers.
While the project would create thousands of temporary construction jobs, a State Department report said less than 40 workers would be needed to permanently operate Keystone XL.
Obama wants the State Department to finish determining whether the pipeline is in the national interest, but backers say the six-year-plus approval process has gone on too long. The project would bring more than 800,000 barrels per day of heavy oil from Alberta and light U.S. crude to Nebraska en route to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
The House of Representatives has voted nine times to approve the project. Aides to House leaders did not immediately answer questions about whether the chamber would vote to pass the Senate bill or if it would go into conference talks.
Obama is expected to make his own decision soon on Keystone. The State Department has told other federal agencies they have until Feb. 2 to conclude their assessment of the project.
Even if Obama decides to oppose the pipeline, Republicans will keep pushing. Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota, a sponsor of the bill, plans to attach a measure to a spending bill or other legislation later in the year that Obama would find hard to reject. "There will be other opportunities," Hoeven told reporters after the preliminary vote.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)