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By Tim Leeds 

Rehberg, Tester fight on tax, pipeline


Taxes and an oil pipeline are taking a center stage in a Montana Senate race as well as in the national attention.

Last-minute wrangling on extending payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits with a side issue of ruling on a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline have both sides of the campaigns for Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., in the race for Tester's Senate seat, calling foul against each other.

The Senate last week ignored a House bill to extend the tax cuts and unemployement benefits and require a decision in 60 days on issuing a permit for the oil pipeline, as well as other issues added to the bill, and Saturday voted 89-10 to approve a bipartisan compromise extending the cuts and unemployment, and also requiring a pipeline permit decision in 60 days.

The House this week, with Rehberg's vote, approved a motion to "disagree to the Senate amendments and request a conference with the Senate thereon" to resolve the differences — the main difference cited by the House that the Senate bill only gave a two-month extension, rather than the one-year extension in the House bill.

Both sides — though this pits House Republicans against a bipartisan coalition in the Senate — have called foul on the other group's votes.

Aaron Murphy, spokesman for Tester's campaign, said Rehberg's vote is putting partisan politics above the needs of his constituents.

"Instead of standing up for Keystone pipeline jobs and lower taxes for middle-class families, Congressman Rehberg followed orders from his party bosses to kill jobs and raise taxes on middle-class families, " Murphy said in a statement following the House vote. "Dennis Rehberg's irresponsible say-one-thing-and-do-another record won't create Montana jobs. "

But Rehberg had the same kind of comments for the Senate, saying he was ready to stay and resolve differences between the bills — the Senate recessed after it passed its bill Saturday.

"Like most Montanans, I'm at work today and I'll be here until the job is done, " Rehberg said in a press release. "Unfortunately, the Senate left town before finishing their work. I hope they'll return from vacation to finish the job.

"We simply cannot let congressional gridlock cause more hardship for the overburdened taxpayer, " Rehberg said.

Both sides also have cited the other as acting in opposition to requiring a permit on the Keystone pipeline, which would ship petroleum from the oil sands in northeastern Alberta through Montana en route to Texas. President Barack Obama postponed making a decision on issuing a permit for the pipeline until 2013 — after the national elections.

Rehberg sponsored the legislation that was added to the House bill requiring a decision on Keystone within 60 days.

Rehberg — and other Republicans in the House — have cited Obama's desire to have a one-year extension of the cuts and benefits as a reason to oppose the Senate bill.

But, according to the White House, Obama wants to pass the Senate bill, to give time to work out an extension for the rest of the year.

Obama interrupted a press briefing Tuesday to make some comments on the issue.

"Now, let's be clear: Right now, the bipartisan compromise that was reached on Saturday is the only viable way to prevent a tax hike on January 1st, " he said. "It's the only one. All of the leaders in Congress — Democrats and Republicans — say they are committed to making sure we extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance for the entire year. …

"In fact, the House Republicans say they don't dispute the need for a payroll tax cut. What they're really trying to do, what they're holding out for, is to wring concessions from Democrats on issues that have nothing to do with the payroll tax cut — issues where the parties fundamentally disagree, " Obama said. "So a one-year deal is not the issue; we can and we will come to that agreement, as long as it's focused on the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance and not focused on extraneous issues. "

The White House press office reports that Obama has spoken to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, both Wednesday and today, urging the House to pass the Senate bill.

The president this morning "reiterated to the speaker that the only viable option currently on the table is for the House of Representatives to pass the bipartisan Senate compromise that received the support of nearly 90 percent of the Senate, " the White House statement reads.


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