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Republicans continue pressuring Obama on Keystone oil pipeline

As the Senate debates a bill authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, with a vote on final passage expected next week, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski warned President Obama Saturday not to block the controversial, long-stalled project.

"After more than 2,300 days of presidential indecision, it's important for us to act," Murkowski said in the weekly Republican address. "The world is watching to see whether the United States is willing to lead as a global energy superpower that respects its neighbors, trades with its allies and builds needed infrastructure. I believe we are ready for that role, and our leadership can start with the approval of Keystone XL."

The pipeline has been in limbo for over six years pending the completion of an executive branch review process. If completed, it would carry crude oil harvested from Canadian tar sands to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Supporters say it would create jobs and increase America's footprint in the global energy market, while foes say the project's job creation estimates are overinflated and that it would exacerbate carbon pollution.

The Senate, under new Republican leadership, voted on a number of amendments to the bill this week, including a vote on Wednesday to acknowledge the reality of climate change. The language in that amendment, in a disappointment for Democrats, did not blame human activity for the changing climate.

The president has said he will veto any congressional attempts to force his hand on Keystone. In his State of the Union address, Mr. Obama took square aim at the argument that human activities, specifically carbon emissions, aren't to blame for climate change.

"I've heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they're not scientists, that we don't have enough information to act," the president said. "Well, I'm not a scientist, either. But you know what - I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA and NOAA and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we'll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict and hunger around the globe."

He urged Congress to set their sights higher than a "single oil pipeline" and send him an infrastructure bill that will create "30 times as many jobs per year."

In her address, Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, also offered a preview of her upcoming effort to pass a comprehensive energy bill.

"We've seen firsthand that American supply matters to global prices - and the only question now is whether we're going to take the steps necessary to keep energy affordable," Murkowski said. She argued the Senate could "reach those goals by strengthening our supply, modernizing our infrastructure, supporting energy efficiency and ensuring federal accountability."

Murkowski suggested opening the "non-wilderness portion" of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration - a long-held Republican priority that has been repeatedly blocked by Democrats. She also cited the "prolific" energy resources offshore and in the country's strategic petroleum reserve that are waiting to be tapped.

In his own address Saturday, the president continued stressing the theme of "middle class economics" that he discussed in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

"Today, thanks to a growing economy, the recovery is touching more and more lives. Wages are finally starting to rise again. Let's keep that going - let's do more to restore the link between hard work and growing opportunity for every American," he said. "That's what middle-class economics is - the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same set of rules."

The president touted proposals to expand paid leave, child care and higher education to help middle class families get ahead. He also mentioned infrastructure spending and trade deals to open "new markets so we can sell our products around the world."

He argued Congress could pay for the proposals by closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthiest Americans, but he acknowledged that measure faces headwinds in the GOP-controlled Congress.

"I know that there are Republicans in Congress who disagree with my approach, and I look forward to hearing their ideas for how we can pay for what the middle class needs to grow," he said. "But what we can't do is simply pretend that things like child care or college aren't important or pretend there's nothing we can do to help middle class families get ahead."