Your United States Senate is eager to get back to work. Next week, Republicans who control the body will hold their first hearing of the new Congress.
Immigration? Foreign affairs? Taxes?
Nope. It’s the Keystone XL pipeline.
Lawmakers have yakked about the $5 billion project for years. In 2012, Sen. Roy Blunt said the entire Canada-to-Texas pipe would “put more people back to work (and) reduce prices at the pump.” Sen. Claire McCaskill made the same claim.
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Of course, gas was close to $4 a gallon at the time, and the unemployment rate hovered near 8 percent. More jobs and cheaper gas sounded like a pretty good deal.
Today, though, gas can be bought for $2 a gallon, and the unemployment rate is under 6 percent. And the Keystone XL pipeline had nothing to do with either phenomenon.
Perhaps you’re waiting for Missouri’s senators to acknowledge that fact and re-evaluate the need for the project.
Keep waiting. “The Keystone XL Pipeline would create tens of thousands of jobs and decrease our nation’s heavy reliance on unstable foreign sources of oil,” Blunt said just a few weeks ago.
“Getting this project moving will mean creating jobs,” McCaskill said in November.
The claims are dubious — operating the full pipeline will take about 50 people — but they illustrate a bigger issue: Politicians may want to stop acting as if their decisions can overcome fundamental global economic trends.
Gas prices are dropping because fracking has produced more energy and OPEC isn’t cutting production, not because of what Congress or the White House has or hasn’t done. America is adding jobs because companies normally expand after a recession.
Government can affect jobs and fuel costs at the margins, of course. But markets are usually much more potent than political choices.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is learning this lesson, to his chagrin. His tax cuts didn’t elevate the state above the broader economy, and his predictions of job and revenue growth have struggled as a result.
Is government powerless? No. But its most important role is providing the foundation for economic success: an educated, healthy workforce. Modern transportation and infrastructure. A fair, understandable and stable tax system.
Instead, we get a debate over a pipeline that probably won’t make an economic difference either way.
Here’s a New Year’s prediction: Whatever the Keystone verdict, gas prices will continue to fluctuate.
To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.