The bill requires the administration to issue a permit for the pipeline within 60 days of enactment, unless the president determines the pipeline “would not serve the national interest.” 

The State Dept. had said in a Dec. 12 statement it would be unable to issue a decision by that 60-day deadline on whether to issue a permit for the 1,700-mile, $7-billion project.

The State Dept. said an “arbitrary deadline” would “compromise” the review process and prevent it from adhering to the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirements.

The State Dept. added, “In the absence of properly completing the [review] process, the department would be unable to make a determination to issue a permit for this project.”

The department also said it is getting more information about alternate routings for the pipeline in Nebraska to avoid the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills area and added that it believes it could finish its review in time so a decision could be made in the first quarter of 2013.

The bill keeps the current payroll tax rate for individuals at 3.1% through February. If Congress had not acted, the rate would have reverted on Jan. 1 to its pre-2011 level of 6.2%, dealing a blow to the wallets of tens of millions of individuals.

House Republicans had objected to the two-month extension, which the Senate had approved on Dec. 17, with some GOP lawmakers arguing that a full-year extension was needed.

That squabble led to the House passing a bill on Dec. 20 that effectively rejected the Senate’s two-month plan.