"Attacking Obama on the pipeline delay is definitely a good hit," GOP strategist Tyler Harber said. "This issue gives another example to Republicans that demonstrates that Obama hasn't fully embraced policies that could grow jobs."
Republicans took a hit in December's fight over extending the payroll tax-cut holiday and consider the Keystone issue a soft spot for Obama, who has focused on the economy and job creation as he enters his re-election campaign, The Hill reported Friday.
House GOP leaders held up the payroll deal when their rank-and-file balked at legislation that had the backing of Senate Republicans. A compromise bill ultimately approved by Congress and signed into law by Obama included language that requires a decision on a pipeline permit within 60 days. That deadline is Feb. 21.
Republicans say approving the pipeline to carry Alberta's oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries would create thousands of jobs while curbing reliance on oil from unstable nations.
"Waging war on the White House for the pipeline delay will successfully shift the public debate from the payroll tax-cut extension to an issue that Republicans can use to make headway against Obama," Harber said.
The Keystone issue is a sticky one for Obama.
Environmental groups oppose the project because of greenhouse gas emissions and forest destruction from Alberta oil sands projects, among other things, Labor unions, however, back the project.
Republican pollster Dan Judy told The Hill criticizing Obama for avoiding action on Keystone is smart for GOP lawmakers.
"Republicans also see this as basically a naked ploy [by] Obama to his base, and really sacrificing a project that would provide thousands of jobs to appease liberal, left-wing enviros," Judy said.
The White House has argued that mandating a decision by next month leaves the administration little choice but to reject the project.