Gillibrand: Keystone Pipeline 'Poison Pill' for Payroll Tax Cut

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Recap from It's a Free Country.

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, New York Senator (D) Kirsten Gillibrand rounded up news from Washington as the legislative session wraps up, from the payroll tax cuts to unemployment benefits and more.

Insider trading in Congress?

Among the bills that Kirsten Gillibrand is working on before year's end is a bipartisan one that would make it illegal for members of Congress to trade on privileged information that private citizens can't. That there are no laws explicitly banning the practice for congressional officers may be surprising; that there should be such a law, Gillibrand says, is a no-brainer.

If you have access to non-public information because of your job, you should not be able to go home and buy yourself stocks and benefit from that.

Chances for Obama's payroll tax cut

Of course, the biggest thing on Gillibrand's plate is the payroll tax cut extension sought by President Obama. Republicans in Congress have repeatedly opposed the measure because Democrats would pay for the extension by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. The GOP's latest move has been to attach a provision to an extension bill that would force President Obama to make a decision about extending the Keystone oil pipeline from Canada into the U.S. Obama has delayed a decision about the pipeline until 2013, but such a provision could force his hand earlier—and during an election year, no less.

Gillibrand, citing environmental concerns, is less than thrilled about the GOP's bringing Keystone into the negotiations.

I think it's a terrible idea. I'm very concerned about it...It's a poison pill; I think [Republicans] are trying to introduce it as a reason for it to fail.We shouldn't be trying to score political points here. We have to get this [extension] done, because we just can't allow taxes to increase by an average of $1,000 for 160 million hard-working Americans.

An unlikely pay-for?

Gillibrand said that there were many possible "pay-fors" that Democrats and Republicans could look for in the coming weeks and agree on as they try and offset the cost of extending the payroll tax cut. Perhaps there's a way to do it that doesn't lean too heavily on tax increases or spending cuts.

One source might be another bill that the Senator is working on, which would improve law enforcement first-responder communication systems.

We want to relegate 10 Mhz in our communications network just for first responders. We'll auction off all the available spectrum and consolidate 10 Mhz. We would would raise tens of billions of dollars, and that money would be spent to build the communications infrastructure.

Gillibrand said that even after spending on new systems, there would be $6 billion left over just to go to deficit reduction. That's just a fraction of the over $100 billion needed to pay for the payroll tax cut extension, but this is the kind of "pay-for" members of Congress should be eyeing.