Huffpost Politics

Kentucky Wins Sweet Deal In $2.9 Billion Budget Bill Earmark

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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 Obamacare virtually untouched, once passed by Congress and signed by the president.

Though the deal comes with concessions from both parties, it also benefits McConnell's 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.) criticized the practice of adding extra provisions to must-pass bills.

"I'm not for a number of things that got included. A few were finally knocked out, but I do not like adding these kinds of things to it," Sessions told reporters. "I know and have supported the emergency funding for flooding in the West, but I don't know that it had to be a part of this. It really should be more in the normal process and we should have more time to add to it."

He added, "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. In the long run, that's not good for the public."

Jennifer Bendery and Sabrina Siddiqui contributed reporting.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated incorrectly that Sen. Sessions called the earmark an "abuse" of Sen. McConnell's position. He did not criticize McConnell, nor mention him by name, and was reacting to the general practice of adding earmarks to must-pass bills. We regret this error.

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