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Republican Congress moves ahead with 2 veto-bait bills

January 8, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defiant Republicans ignored two White House veto threats and advanced bills in Congress Thursday curbing President Barack Obama’s cherished health care overhaul and forcing construction on a proposed a Canada-U.S. oil pipeline.

The power struggles over the bills are the first of many expected during the final two years of President Barack Obama’s term, with Republicans fully in control of Congress after winning a Senate majority in November elections.

On both bills, Republican leaders would face uphill fights mustering the two-thirds House and Senate majorities needed to override presidential vetoes. But both measures had some support from Democrats, and Republicans could use them to portray themselves as championing bipartisan legislation, only to be thwarted by Obama and his Democratic allies.

A Senate committee approved a measure dismantling Obama’s ability to block the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which has become a flashpoint pitting the Republicans’ jobs agenda against Democrats’ environmental concerns. The Senate planned to begin debate next week and passage there seemed likely, while the House was poised to approve its version Friday.

Meanwhile, the House approved legislation narrowing the definition of full-time workers who must be offered employer-provided health care from those working 30 hours weekly to a 40-hour minimum. That would mean employers would be obligated to extend health care coverage to fewer employers under the health care law, which has extended insurance coverage to millions of Americans who had lacked it.

Republican leaders criticized Obama’s veto threats.

“Given the chance to start with a burst of bipartisan productivity, the president turned his back on the American people’s priorities,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Thursday, adding, “We were taking our oath of office when they were issuing veto threats. Come on.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats would sustain Obama’s vetoes on both bills and said it was Republicans who have blocked progress.

She said Democrats would uphold a promised Obama veto on a third measure rolling back some regulations on the financial industry enacted after the 2008 economic crash. That bill fell short in the House this week but is expected to pass on a re-vote next week.

Obama’s 2010 health care law, a perennial Republican target, is phasing in a requirement that companies with more than 50 full-time workers offer health care coverage or face penalty payments to the government.

Backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, Republicans say defining full-time employees as those working at least 30 hours is pressuring firms to save money by cutting workers’ hours and diminishing the number of full-time jobs.

Twelve Democrats joined all 240 voting Republicans in voting for the bill.

The measure’s fate is less clear in the Senate, where majority Republicans will need at least six Democratic votes to get the 60 needed to overcome Democratic delaying tactics. Senate Republican leaders have not said when the bill will be debated.

At the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, lawmakers voted 13-9 Thursday to approve the Keystone pipeline. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia was the only Democrat backing the measure, which would clear the way for a $5.4 billion project to carry oil produced from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

Republicans call the pipeline a job creator, but Democrats say it would worsen the threat of global warming.

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Associated Press writers Dina Cappiello, David Espo, Stephen Ohlemacher, Andrew Taylor and Erica Werner contributed to this report.

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