WASHINGTON – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) struck a deal with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday, averting a potential debt default and reopening the government while leaving the Obamacare virtually untouched, once passed by Congress and signed by the president.
Though the deal comes with concessions from both parties, McConnell managed to score an earmark that will benefit his home state of Kentucky.
Section 123 of the Senate bill secures $2.918 billion in funding for the Olmsted Lock and Dam Authority for a dam project on the Ohio River being developed by URS Corp., a construction management company. That’s a huge boost from the $775 million originally allotted. URS told The Wall Street Journal that the project — one of the largest taken on by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — would halt without more funding.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee — another state benefiting from the project — said the provision was necessary to preserve $160 million in contracts.
“According to the Army Corps of Engineers, 160 million taxpayer dollars will be wasted because of canceled contracts if this language is not included. Sen. [Dianne] Feinstein and I, as chairman and ranking member of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, requested this provision. It has already been approved this year by the House and Senate,” Alexander said in a statement to BuzzFeed.
While the earmark is a great deal for McConnell, the funding request reportedly came from President Barack Obama. A McConnell spokesman told The Wall Street Journal that the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the funding earlier this year, and that the request came from the White House.
Reid said there’s nothing shady about the “so-called anomaly” tucked into the bill.
“This is not an earmark,” Reid told reporters. “It saves the taxpayers lots of money.”
Reid said the provision enables the Corps of Engineers to continue work on the project, which, in turn, saves taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
“Had we not done this, the Corps of Engineers would have had to spend before the last day of December $80 million to stop the project,” Reid said. “So there’s no need to point fingers at anyone. … It does nothing to running up the deficit. In fact, it saves the government money.”
The Senate Conservatives Fund is none too pleased with the deal. The conservative PAC called the move “the Kentucky Kickback,” saying it insults families in Kentucky who are against funding Obamacare and raising the debt ceiling.
“This is what’s wrong with Washington and it’s what’s wrong with Mitch McConnell,” the Senate Conservatives Fund said in a statement.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) called the provision an “abuse” of McConnell’s position.
“One of the tricks around here, one of the abuses around here, is you get a big bill that needs to go forward and needs to pass, and the people try to load it up with things that are important to them,” Sessions told reporters. “In the long run, that’s not good for the public.”