By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Republicans were poised to move ahead on Thursday with a bill to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, their top priority in a new campaign to roll back President Barack Obama's policies.
The Senate Energy Committee was expected to advance the bill later on Thursday toward a debate in the full Republican-controlled chamber next week. The House of Representatives has scheduled a vote to approve the pipeline on Friday.
Obama has threatened to veto the measure, setting up an early battle over the TransCanada Corp project that would link Canadian oil sands to refineries in Texas.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, the new head of the Energy Committee, told the panel that Republicans should not be deterred by opposition from the Obama administration.
"It’s fair to say that the country, but also the world, is watching the United States to see if we are ready to lead as a global energy superpower. An energy superpower that respects its neighbors and its trade with its allies and builds the necessary infrastructure," the Alaska Republican said.
Obama, who has been considering the project for six years, has said that the oil would do little to lower gasoline prices for consumers in the United States and wants the State Department to finish consideration of the project.
Murkowski said Congress can act to keep oil supply as high as possible and prices as low as possible, "or we can sit on our hands...and give away this golden opportunity."
The White House formalized a veto threat on Wednesday on the project. Environmentalists oppose Keystone for the emissions linked to mining Canada's oil sands, while union members and energy interests cheer it for the construction jobs it would support.
Senator John Hoeven, a Republican who introduced the bill on Tuesday with Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, says he has 63 votes for the bill, four less than the 67 needed to override a veto. Backers of the project hope that if the panel passes the bill, the full Senate will debate amendments that would create more Democratic support.
Democrats opposed to the pipeline have said they plan to introduce amendments requiring the pipeline to be built with U.S. steel and to prevent the oil from ever being exported.
The Republican-led House of Representatives already has voted nine times to approve Keystone.
If Obama vetoes the bill, Republican lawmakers will attempt to attach Keystone language to a must-pass spending bill or other legislation that Obama would find hard to reject.
The State Department has delayed deciding whether the project is in the country's interest pending a court ruling in Nebraska over Keystone's route. The court could rule as soon as Friday or as late as the summer. If it upholds a lower court TransCanada could face many more months of delays.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by John Whitesides and Grant McCool)