Republicans Hold Minimum Wage Workers Hostage Over the Keystone Pipeline

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Students march toward the White House, where 400 will be arrested protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline. (Photo: John Light/Moyers & Company)

Students march toward the White House protesting against the Keystone XL pipeline on March 2, 2014 . Police arrested 400 demonstrators at the march. (Photo: John Light/Moyers & Company)

This post originally appeared at the DeSmogBlog.

One of the biggest political issues facing the United States right now is economic inequality and the fight for a fairer minimum wage.  Unfortunately for American workers, that fight is being held up by another political fight that isn’t quite as large in scale, but has some powerful proponents in the dirty energy industry. That project, of course, is the northern half of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Just a few weeks ago, President Obama announced an extended review period for the pipeline, which would allow him to make a decision after this year’s high-stakes midterm elections.  That announcement was not joyful news to proponents of the pipeline, and they’ve now decided to tie the project into an issue that is very dear to many Americans — raising the minimum wage.

Last week, Tom Cole, a Republican representative from Oklahoma, told MSNBC that he would consider voting in favor of raising the federal minimum wage if Democrats in the House would approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Rep. Cole’s top donor industry over the course of his decade-long career in the US House of Representatives has been the oil and gas industry.

Cole says that “there’s always a potential for compromise” with his Democratic colleagues in the House, and approving something the Republicans want in exchange for something the Democrats want is how the game is played in Washington, DC.

But Cole’s comments go beyond the typical tit-for-tat deals that take place inside the beltway, and he is entering extortion territory by making these claims in the media, rather than to his colleagues on the House floor.

Cole’s contention is that the Keystone XL pipeline will create jobs, while raising the minimum wage will destroy jobs, so overall, it’s a wash in his mind.  Both of those assertions have been thoroughly debunked.

Cole represents the House’s take on the pipeline, and things aren’t much different over in the Senate, as Roll Call points out:

Senate Republican leaders plan to filibuster President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour when it comes up for an initial test vote Wednesday, and are pushing for a vote soon on the Keystone XL pipeline instead.

“Cloture will not be invoked,” said Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas.

But Republicans in Congress aren’t the only ones trying to use Keystone XL to hold our political system hostage — the oil industry itself is getting in on the action with a full-on assault on our elections.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) has rolled out a new series of radio and TV ads in states where Democrats are up for re-election, charging that they are holding up progress on the Keystone XL pipeline.  Their goal is to coerce, through threat of electoral defeat, these vulnerable Democrats into voting in favor of the project, should it come up for a vote in Congress.

And the ads are just the start of the coercion, according to The Hill:

The petroleum institute said it’s using every tool in its arsenal to build support for Keystone.

“We are certainly going to use up all of our outreach options at this point,” said Cindy Schild, the group’s downstream operations manager for refining and oil sands. “We want to convince and show senators that their constituents want them to do the right thing.”

And if you think that President Obama isn’t using the Keystone XL project for political gain, you’d be gravely mistaken.  His decision to delay a final verdict on the pipeline allows the Democratic Party the opportunity to do two things.  The first is to court dirty energy industry money to help fund reelection campaigns ahead of the November midterms.  The second is to allow his party to remain neutral ahead of the elections, so that dirty energy money doesn’t favor the Republican side more than usual.

The entire situation is growing increasingly pathetic.  All of the available research tells us that the pipeline will be a drain on our economy, it will do nothing to spur job growth, and it will only increase the United States’ dependence on foreign oil, raise our fuel prices and contribute to climate change.

But our elected officials don’t care about those facts, they only care about where the money for their next campaign will come from.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, and his writings have appeared in publications such as California’s Information Press and Pensacola’s Independent Weekly. He has also worked for the Ring of Fire radio program with hosts Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Mike Papantonio since August 2004, and is currently the producer of the program. Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.
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