Could Keystone poison the Senate’s energy plans?
Darren Goode
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources panel’s new chairwoman, Lisa Murkowski, is already laying out an ambitious agenda to try to open new areas for oil and gas exploration, buttress the power grid and implement new energy efficiency policies. What’s not clear is whether lawmakers will have the stomach for it after an extended floor debate on the proposed pipeline and a raft of other energy amendments.


WHIP LIST: Senate fault lines harden on Keystone debate
Marianna Sotomayor and Alison Thoet
Sixty-three senators — the entire 54-member GOP conference and nine Democrats, are widely expected to vote in favor of building the pipeline. Thirty-five Democrats and two Independents who caucus with the party are widely expected to oppose it. Within those 37 “no” votes, there are perhaps four members who could switch sides.


Ted Cruz Is Working to Give the Oil Industry What It Wants. So Why Are They Complaining?
Clare Foran
The oil industry has been working overtime in the past year to get Congress to overturn the ban on crude-oil exports. And Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is pushing to add an amendment to the bill approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline that would roll back 1970s-era restrictions on sending U.S. oil overseas. But in a case of “Be careful what you ask for,” multiple industry lobbyists tell National Journal that this vote is not what they want at all, because it’s happening too quickly. And industry envoys are privately pressing Cruz and his staff to either withdraw the amendment entirely or stop short of calling for a vote.


The Cheap-Oil Reform Moment
Lower oil prices couldn’t have come at a better time for the new leaders of India and Indonesia. Months after entering office amid sluggish economic growth and rising inflation, Narendra Modi and Joko Widodo have already capitalized on oil’s price collapse by curbing subsidies that have long wreaked havoc on state balance sheets. Now comes the hard part: enacting the broader reforms to spur long-term growth.


Judge’s Ruling on Gulf Oil Spill Lowers Ceiling on the Fine BP Is Facing
John Schwartz
A federal judge will hold BP responsible for spilling 3.19 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster — a finding that could lead to a penalty of nearly $14 billion. Judge Carl J. Barbier of Federal District Court in New Orleans issued the ruling on Thursday. In a 44-page finding of fact that anticipates the coming third phase of the sprawling federal case over the spill, Judge Barbier wrote that the company actually spilled four million barrels of oil into the gulf but, considering its collection efforts, BP should be held responsible for a net discharge of 3.19 million, or about 134 million gallons.


Scientists: Human activity has pushed Earth beyond four of nine ‘planetary boundaries’
Joel Achenbach
At the rate things are going, the Earth in the coming decades could cease to be a “safe operating space” for human beings. That is the conclusion of a new paper published Thursday in the journal Science by 18 researchers trying to gauge the breaking points in the natural world.


New Pew survey shows Americans might finally be getting serious about global warming
Roberto A. Ferdman
[Pew] asked a nationally representative pool of Americans which policy issues they believe should be a top priority for the Obama administration and newly appointed Congress this year. Only 38 percent of people said they thought global warming qualifies, which is almost low enough to make the issue the least important to the American public out of 23 responses.




GOP makes U-turn on net neutrality
Kate Tummarello
“Times have changed,” Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the House telecom subcommittee, said when asked about the evolving GOP position on net neutrality. “The administration has latched onto this [utility-style regulation], and the FCC’s independence is nominal at best.” According to Walden, the Republican bill — which “is ready” and will be released in the coming days — “gives the protections that the president and FCC say they want, and does it in a legally sustainable way.”


GOP bill may hinder FCC on community broadband
Alex Byers and Kate Tummarello
GOP lawmakers, led by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), haven’t unveiled the text of their bill, which is expected to land within the next week. But Thune has already indicated their effort will bar the FCC from using Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act. The FCC is likely to lean on that provision if it wants to override state laws that restrict municipal broadband networks run by local governments.


Better cybersecurity defenses require a concerted public-private effort
What’s really needed now is a harder edge to thinking about how to prevent another hack like that of Sony Pictures. What if the next onslaught wipes out the computers and switches off lights in a major metropolitan hospital or transit system? This analysis needs to find new ideas and methods for creating effective defenses against cyber­attacks. It has to come not only from Congress and the White House but also, dare we say, from the U.S. military and intelligence agencies, and from all institutions and facets of society that have grown so heavily dependent on digital highways.


The Cruel Waste of America’s Tech Talent
Joshua Davis
We grant roughly 85,000 H1B visas, for immigrants with special skills, to engineers to fill jobs here. In doing so, we overlook a generation of students who are deemed foreigners but who grew up here and plan to stay. When their visas expire, a majority of H1B visa holders will leave, and take the skills they developed with them. At a time when science and technology prowess will be critical to this country’s growth, we can’t afford to squander the homegrown brainpower of students like Oscar, Lorenzo, Luis and Cristian.


Wrong Responses to Charlie Hebdo
Regrettably, some politicians are proposing the kind of Internet censorship and surveillance that would do little to protect their citizens but do a lot to infringe on civil liberties. In Paris, a dozen interior ministers from European Union countries including France, Britain and Germany issued a statement earlier this week calling on Internet service providers to identify and take down online content “that aims to incite hatred and terror.” The ministers also want the European Union to start monitoring and storing information about the itineraries of air travelers. And in Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron suggested the country should ban Internet services that did not give the government the ability to monitor all encrypted chats and calls.


The Internet isn’t to blame for radicalization
David Ignatius
What’s the relationship between the Internet and the surge of jihadist violence in France, Belgium and around the world? That’s the puzzle examined by Marc Sageman, a psychiatrist and former CIA officer whose contrarian views on terrorism are worth a careful look. “Blaming the Internet for radicalization is really blaming any form of communication for radicalization,” cautions Sageman. “Mere exposure to wrong ideas can explain neither their adoption nor their power to lead people to . . . political violence.”




Murder in Zurich
The prediction that 2015 will be a year of currency turmoil is already coming true. Under pressure from the eurozone’s devaluation policy, Switzerland’s central bank on Thursday abruptly dropped its currency peg to the euro and sent global markets reeling. This won’t be the last currency shock as the world’s big central banks go their own way in frantic attempts to spur a slowing global economy.


The IRS Is Not Here to Help You
If the IRS continues to stonewall the political targeting investigation, as Mr. Koskinen has, then the only tool Congress has to express disapproval is the power of the purse. In any case it’s hard to imagine the IRS could offer worse service than it already does.


How Spending Sapped the Global Recovery
Ruchir Sharma
As the world’s elites gather in Davos next week, expect more big names to join the chorus calling for increased government spending to enliven the flailing global recovery. President Obama and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew are among the voices urging European leaders to spend more. The International Monetary Fund and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers —who wrote in the Financial Times in October that “there is for once a free lunch”—have even been arguing that government borrowing to build roads or airports would more than pay for itself. If only governments in the developed world would start spending more, this refrain goes, the global economy’s future would be brighter. Before anyone rushes to spend, however, it is worth noting that the big emerging nations—China, Russia and Brazil—have just tried a full-throttle experiment in stimulus spending, and it failed.




Joni Ernst makes the cut to rebut Obama’s big speech
Manu Raju and Jake Sherman
Joni Ernst promised last year to make Washington “squeal.” On Tuesday, she’ll have her chance. Ernst, who pulled off a resounding victory in last fall’s Iowa Senate race after a memorable television ad about castrating hogs, will deliver the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address next week.


Rating the Republicans
David Brooks
Among the governors, Kasich and Christie have shown they can take the values of religious conservatives and use them to inform Republican economic and domestic priorities. That’s essential if the party is going retain its business and religious base and also reach the struggling and disaffected.


RNC set to issue rules to cut, regulate presidential debates
Dan Balz and Philip Rucker
Republican leaders on Friday plan to unveil new rules for presidential debates, marking the most aggressive effort yet by a national party committee to limit the number of forums and to shape the environment for the nominating season.


Obama to Senate Dems: ‘I’m going to play offense’
Manu Raju
President Barack Obama made clear Thursday in a closed-door session with Senate Democrats that he’s prepared to veto hostile legislation from the GOP-controlled Congress, including an Iran sanctions package on the front-burner of Capitol Hill. According to several sources at the Thursday summit in Baltimore, Obama vowed to defend his agenda against Republicans in Congress, promised to stand firm against GOP efforts to dismantle his agenda and called on his Democratic colleagues to help sustain his expected vetoes. The president also was explicit over his administration’s opposition to an Iran sanctions bill, promising to veto legislation with his administration in the midst of multilateral nuclear negotiations with the Middle Eastern regime.


McConnell to House GOP: Don’t expect miracle on immigration
Alexander Bolton and Scott Wong
Senate GOP leaders are using their joint retreat with the House to warn conservatives that they’re not going to be able to reverse President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. … “You look at the hand you’re dealt. There are not 60 Republicans so you have to convince six Democrats to move with them,” said one border-state Republican congressman. “Pigs will fly out of my rear end before that happens.”


Opting Out of Unions Gets Boost in States
Mark Peters
A new wave of bills that would allow workers to opt out of joining unions is expected from Maine to New Mexico as Republicans look to capitalize on statehouse gains to put new limits on organized labor.


Disabling a Budget Con
The subjective eligibility criteria for disability haven’t been updated in 35 years despite advances in medicine and rehabilitation, and they are enforced at the discretion of administrative judges. Applicants often use a shadow industry of lawyers, doctors and bureaucratic fixers to qualify. And as former Senator Tom Coburn amply documented, fraud is rampant. If the GOP’s truth-in-advertising change forces Congress to fix the disability mess and protect the most vulnerable, so much the better.