A proposal to end the government shutdown and avoid default orchestrated by Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Leader Harry Reid includes a nearly $3 billion earmark for a Kentucky project.
Language in a draft of the McConnell-Reid deal (see page 13, section 123) provided to WFPL News shows a provision that increases funding for the massive Olmsted Dam Lock in Paducah, Ky., from $775 million to nearly $2.9 billion.
The dam is considered an important project for the state and region in regards to water traffic along the Ohio River.
As The Courier-Journal's James Bruggers reported in 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said they needed about $2.1 billion for the locks due to “stop and go funding.”
Asked about the additional funding in the proposal, McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer directed all questions to lawmakers who worked on the bill directly.
“Senators (Diane) Feinstein and (Lamar) Alexander, the chair and ranking member of the energy and water subcommittee, worked on the issue and can help you,” he says.
Since 2009, McConnell has been an outspoken supporter of the project, and has been working on getting its funding for some time.
Still, conservative critics of the proposal argue it is nothing more than a “kickback” for McConnell in an age where Tea Parties have eschewed earmarks.
The Olmsted Dam sees nearly 90 billion tons of materials such as coal, petroleum and other goods move through that stretch of the Ohio River annually.
UPDATE 7:30 p.m.:
A statement from Sen. Alexander's office to BuzzFeed says the language was added to prevent funding from being canceled.
“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. [Diane] 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.”
UPDATE 9:35 p.m.:
The Senate passed the McConnell-Reid deal by a 81-18 vote and it now heads to the House.
Among those who voted against the bill were Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who derided the legislation for overlooking the nation's debt.
“Tonight, a deal was struck to re-open the government and avoid the debt ceiling deadline. That is a good thing,” Paul said in a statement. “However, our country faces a problem bigger than any deadline: a $17 trillion debt. I am disappointed that Democrats would not compromise to avoid the looming debt debacle.”
Paul's office has not responded to our request for commenting regarding the provision for the Olmsted project.
In a follow-up e-mail, McConnell's office told the radio station the GOP leader did not request Alexander put wording to raise the authorization for funding in the bill despite McConnell's support for earmark funding in the past.