(CNSNews.com) - President Barack Obama, who punted a decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline until after the presidential election, nevertheless insists that his administration has gone "all in" when it comes to domestic energy production.
He also flatly refused any give-and-take with Republicans to speed up the pipeline project.
The president's “all in” comment on Wednesday -- made with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper standing at his side -- prompted a retort from House Speaker John Boehner:
“All in?” Boehner asked. "To date, the president hasn’t urged Senate Democrats to approve any of the House-passed bills that would create new jobs by expanding American energy production. Instead, he’s actively blocked job-creating energy production and imposed a moratorium that closes off some of the most promising energy resources in the world."
Boehner listed four specific energy bills that have been passed by the House and remain stuck in the Democrat-led Senate: "The Obama administration is 'all in' alright – all in on blocking American energy production that would help create new jobs and lower prices.”
Boehner also criticized Obama for delaying the Keystone XL pipeline, which -- if completed -- would bring crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast, creating some 20,000 American jobs in the process.
Environmentalists, a key Obama constituency, strenuously oppose the pipeline, but labor unions -- another Obama constituency -- strongly support it. Obama delayed a politically sensitive decision on the pipeline until after the election – and he opposes recent Congressional action to speed up the project.
Asked on Wednesday if he would consider moving up the pipeline project if Republicans agree to extend the payroll tax cut, Obama flatly rejected such a deal:
"First of all, any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll tax cut I will reject. So everybody should be on notice. And the reason is because the payroll tax cut is something that House Republicans, as well as Senate Republicans, should want to do regardless of any other issues."
Obama said the warning applies to issues beyond Keystone: "Efforts to tie a whole bunch of other issues to something that they should be doing anyway will be rejected by me," he declared.
In his prepared remarks, Obama noted that the Keystone XL pipeline "is very important to Canada." But, he added, "It's important for us to make sure that all the questions regarding the project are properly understood, especially its impact on our environment and the health and safety of the American people."
For three years, the State Department has been conducting a thorough environmental assessment of the pipeline, and it was supposed to make a final decision on the project by the end of 2011. (Because a foreign country is involved, the State Department must decide if the project is in the national interest.)
On Nov. 10, following anti-Keystone protests in Washington, the State Department announced it would look at alternative routes for the pipeline that would take it around the “environmentally sensitive” Nebraska Sand Hills.
Obama, on the same day, issued a statement supporting the State Department’s decision to delay the politically difficult decision until 2013.
On Wednesday, in response to a reporter’s question about the Keystone XL pipeline, Obama described it as "a big project with big consequences. We’ve seen Democrats and Republicans express concerns about it. And it is my job as President of the United States to make sure that a process is followed that examines all the options, looks at all the consequences before a decision is made.
"Now, that process is moving forward. The State Department is making sure that it crosses all its t’s and dots all its i’s before making a final determination. And I think it’s worth noting, for those who want to try to politicize this issue, that when it comes to domestic energy production, we have gone all in, because our belief is, is that we’re going to have to do a whole range of things to make sure that U.S. energy independence exists for a long time to come."
Prime Minister Harper said his position on the Keystone XL issue "is very well known." (After the Nov. 10 announcement that the pipeline would be delayed, Harper told Obama he would look to Asian markets – China -- for Canadian oil.)
On Wednesday, Harper said President Obama has indicated to him that he's following a proper path and has "an open mind in regards to what the final decision may or may not be."
Harper diplomatically added, "And you can appreciate that I would not comment on the domestic politics of this issue or any other issue here in the United States."