Included in the McConnell-Reid bill that would end the government shutdown, fund Obamacare and lift the debt ceiling, is apparently a roughly $2 billion increase in the authorization for the Olmsted Lock and Dam project in Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's home state.
However, there appears to be more to the story.
The alleged earmark package is being referred to as the "Kentucky Kickback" by the Senate Conservatives Fund as McConnell's political opponents claim the dollars helped seal his support for the final McConnell-Reid bill. A spokesman for McConnell has flatly denied the claim.
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 16: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (C) arrives at his office on October 16, 2013 in Washington, DC. Credit: Getty Images
"The McConnell-Reid bill not only funds Obamacare and suspends the debt limit, it ALSO includes a provision in Section 123 that increases the authorization for the Olmsted Lock in Kentucky from $775 million to nearly $3 billion," the Senate Conservatives Fund notes.
Here's exactly what the aforementioned section of the bill states:
SEC. 123. Section 3(a)(6) of Public Law 100–676 is amended by striking both occurrences of ‘‘$775,000,000’’ and inserting in lieu thereof, ‘‘$2,918,000,000’’.
"And when you dig down into that section, you find a lock and dam project on the Ohio River, part in Illinois and part in Kentucky," KRMG correctly points out.
A spokesman for McConnell told KRMG that "it's not our project," directing the radio station to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Senate Appropriations subcommittee, which handles water projects.
"It did not come from here," the McConnell spokesman claimed.
It soon came to light that it was Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) who officially requested the provision be added.
In a statement to BuzzFeed, Alexander explained that the provision was necessary to prevent $160 million in contracts from being cancelled by the Army Corps of Engineers.
"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," he said.
Although the language was inserted by Feinstein and Alexander, whose home state of Tennessee would also benefit from the project, McConnell has been its historical champion. In fact, the Kentucky lawmaker secured hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks for the Olmsted project before lawmakers ended the practice several years ago.
Further, as the Washington Post reports, the funding was also requested by President Barack Obama and, "according to congressional sources from both parties, wasn’t a McConnell project."
Still, McConnell's critics are skeptical that he had absolutely no say in the matter as he is both the minority leader in the U.S. Senate and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
"McConnell may try to blame someone else for this, but he wrote the bill and it's not the first time he has sought funds for this project. He also requested $100 million for it in 2010," the Senate Conservative Fund claims. "This is what's wrong with Washington and it's what's wrong with Mitch McConnell."
The Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee founded by Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint, has not been friendly with McConnell and is known to put pressure on Republican senators and representatives in the effort to defund Obamacare (including McConnell).
McConnell has also recently denied accusations made by an anonymous source that he called anyone who worked with the Senate Conservatives Fund or FreedomWorks the equivalent of a traitor to the GOP.
Read a copy of the actual bill below (via TheDC):
As it turns out, the Olmsted Locks and Dam project is overdue and way over budget. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
A project that should have been completed years ago has quadrupled in cost because of management failures for which the Corps of Engineers has yet to be held accountable.
And the price tag keeps rising.
In 1988, Congress authorized spending $775 million to replace two 1920s-era Ohio River dams 17 miles from the Mississippi River, at the busiest inland shipping hub in America.
A quarter-century later, the projected cost has ballooned to $3.1 billion.
Moreover, the Olmsted project is barely half done. The latest completion dates: 2020 for the dam and 2024 for the entire project.
This story has been updated.