Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is waging a one-man war with the White House over $50,000 for a project in his home state that was nixed in the budget deal, but he really has his rock-ribbed conservative, Tea Party-loyalist South Carolina colleague Sen. Jim DeMint to blame for losing the money for a study on deepening the Port of Charleston.
Graham publicly blasted the Obama administration Tuesday for failing to include the funding for the study in its budget request laid out in February and threatened to block all of the President’s nominations in the Senate because it was left out of the budget deal.
Graham on Tuesday took pains to say he is not requesting an earmark, but there have been several attempts to earmark money for the port study. DeMint effectively killed every one and refused to join a letter to the White House with the rest of the South Carolina delegation requesting the funds.
DeMint refused to support an earmark aimed at beginning the renovation of the Port of Charleston to deepen its channels in order to accommodate a new generation of huge cargo ships because he knew it would undermine his crusade for the elimination of all earmarks.
“They all want me to push an earmark so they can say, ‘Look at DeMint,’” the senator told the Wall Street Journal in mid-October last year.
At the time, Graham’s office told the paper that the Army Corps of Engineers is unlikely to conduct the study that must precede construction without the earmark, which at the time was $400,000 for the study. It’s unclear why Graham is now saying the price tag is $50,000.
DeMint, who is known for supporting conservative challengers against GOP incumbents, had supported earmarks for the port in the past but has since sworn them off.
In February, DeMint and like-minded South Carolina GOP Rep. Joe Wilson also refused to sign a letter to the President by the state’s bipartisan delegation asking for its inclusion in the White House’s 2012 budget request. Everyone else in the delegation, including Graham, were willing to join together to make the request, and Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) at the time told the Charleston Business Journal that DeMint’s and Wilson’s refusal to jump on board derailed the funding.
The South Carolina delegation is particularly upset because the Georgia delegation was unified in its support for an earmark for the same type of Army Corps of Engineers deepening study for the Port of Savannah, and received $600,000 for it in the President’s budget. Charleston and Savannah are in direct competition for a surge in shipping business expected from the 2014 Panama Canal expansion.
Wilson told the Charleston Business Journal in February that he was personally trying to lobby the Army Corps of Engineers and the South Carolina State Ports Authority on the issue. Since then, Graham and DeMint has teamed up on legislation that would restructure the way the Army Corps funds projects, but that doesn’t explain Graham’s anger at the Obama administration right now.
Asked by TPM on Wednesday about DeMint’s role, Graham said, “Jim’s been helpful” and “absolutely” supports the project. The sticking point for DeMint is funding it via an earmark.
Graham’s office said it would call shortly to clarify.