As Republicans criticize the $38 billion budget reduction package for not going far enough to cut federal spending, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham decried what was left on the table: $40,000 for a port project in his home-state of South Carolina.
Graham said Wednesday he would be voting against the 2011 spending deal struck between House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama because it failed to include federal funds he sought for a Charleston Harbor dredging study.
“How do I go back home to the people of South Carolina and say, ‘Sorry’?” Graham said.
The senator also pledged to hold-up President Obama’s nominees in the Senate until the funding issue gets resolved. Vice President Joe Biden called him Tuesday, he said.
Graham has fought a sometimes lonely battle in Congress for federal matching funds for the dredging study. Charleston wants to deepen its harbor to accommodate the bigger cargo ships that are expected to be arriving in greater numbers as the Panama Canal expands.
Fellow home-state Sen. Jim DeMint has opposed funding the port study with an “earmark” --federal funds sought by lawmakers for specific projects. The federal share of the study would be $400,000, but with limited months remaining until the fiscal year expires in Sept. 30, $40,000 to $50,000 was being sought.
Graham got an assist this week from Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC), who joined him for a press conference in Charleston. Scott’s district includes the port that is central to the South Carolina economy, and state businesses have pressed for federal study funds. One in five jobs in South Carolina is tied to the port, officials said.
The GOP led the fight to ban earmarks as part of their spending reduction campaign this year.
The funding that Graham sought in the 2011 spending bill would have allowed several ports to compete for money for harbor deepening studies.
“It is not an earmark,” Graham said Wednesday. “It is allowing infrastructure to be developed -- that has to be developed -- for America to be competitive in the world economy."
House GOP leaders declined to take up Graham’s request, saying it was unnecessary. They reasoned that $127 million in the 2011 budget was available for Army Corps of Engineers investigations, and could potentially be accessed for the study.