Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 20, 2014

$2 Billion for Dam Project in Debt Deal ‘Not an Earmark,’ Reid Explains (Updated)

Updated 12:20 p.m. | A new provision in the final Senate debt limit agreement isn’t an earmark, though the outward appearance is that it would give Kentucky and Illinois favorable treatment.

The long-sought provision would increase the authorization level for the Olmsted Lock and Dam project along the Ohio River between the two states to about $2.9 billion from less than $1 billion.

Of course, the location of the Army Corps of Engineers construction project generated outrage among conservative critics of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The Kentucky Republican was a key negotiator along with Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in the deal to reopen the government through January 2014 and extend the nation’s borrowing authority at least through the month after that.

“This is not an earmark,” Reid said when asked about the Olmsted project at a post-vote news conference. Reid clearly anticipated the questioning, because he had a response prepared for the cameras.

“It saves the … taxpayers lots of money. It enables the Corps of Engineers to continue a project,” Reid said. “Had we not done this so-called anomaly the Corps of Engineers would have had to spend before the last day of December $80 million to stop the project.

“This project has been ongoing since 1988,” Reid added. “There’s no need to point fingers at anyone. … It’s in fact saved the government money.”

A source not involved with the Senate deal-making confirmed Reid’s explanation.

President Barack Obama’s budget proposed similar language for the dam and lock replacement in his annual budget request, and similar language has appeared in authorizing and appropriating measures for water projects on both sides of the Rotunda.

Generally speaking, such provisions aren’t considered earmarks — though it would be no surprise if McConnell’s seniority and negotiating clout gave the project a lift.

Still, the Senate Conservatives Fund, an outside group that has frequently bashed McConnell, weighed in once again before many on Capitol Hill had even noticed the language.

“This is an insult to all the Kentucky families who don’t want to pay for Obamacare and don’t want to shoulder any more debt,” said a statement from the group.

Update 12:20 p.m.

McConnell pointed out to the Lexington Herald-Leader in a telephone interview Thursday that any senator could have objected to including the provision in the deal.

“Every senator had a chance to review it and none — none — asked for it to be taken out,” McConnell said. “It’s pretty rare that you actually save money in a spending bill.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander made the request to include the dam project, the Herald-Leader reported. The Tennessee Republican is the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. That panel has jurisdiction over the Army Corps of Engineers.

  • William Tattors

    Cruz will continue to gather the victimized corral, the more he gets bashed the stronger he will morph into 2014….rain maker…

  • Layla

    Perhaps Mr. Reid would like to explain the payoff to Sen. Lautenberg’s widow? As she already has millions in the bank, why was this not paid for out of personal funds of the United States Senate? The spending must stop, on both sides.

  • John Richardson

    “Every senator had a chance to review it and none — none — asked for it
    to be taken out,” McConnell said. “It’s pretty rare that you actually
    save money in a spending bill.”

    The bigger question is, how many Senators actually knew that was tucked into the bill? After all, wasnt this thing drafted at the last minute? And even if they knew it was in there, anyone who dared not vote for the bill would have been labeled a “terrorist” and someone “holding the country at ransom”.

  • Bill Chelmowski

    Why did the bill have to include two bribes? We need to kick out all the corrupt politicians of both parties, especially the RINO’s who are always wiling to stab the American people in the back to fatten their wallets.

  • mariancruz

    I heard the Senator from Maryland say he really didn’t have time to read about these inclusions. They may put people to work, but the way it was done is not transparent.

  • Wayne

    More and more pork!
    Cut the freaking spending NOW! Not in 2 years but NOW!
    ” When then-Senator Barack Obama opposed raising the debt ceiling back in 2006, he warned, “Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren.” He added, “America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.” We still do.

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