Questioned Wednesday about his threat to “tie the Senate into knots” over $50,000 for a South Carolina port left out of the shutdown-averting spending deal, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) launched into an impassioned defense of the role of government in job creation.
“If you’re a Republican and you want to create jobs, then you need to invest in infrastructure that will allow us to create jobs,” he said at a press conference with Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee on Social Security in response to a question from TPM. “Congress, Republicans and Democrats, talk about creating jobs. How can you create jobs by shutting a port down that 260,000 people depend on?”
Graham said the $50,000 study now on the chopping block was crucial to advancing a $350 million joint federal and state project to ready the port for larger ships. Without it, Graham said, President Obama would have difficulty meeting his goal of doubling exports within five years.
Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler criticized Graham earlier today for threatening to hold up Senate nominations to prevent cuts. Republicans have consistently argued that cutting spending is the route to job creation, though this has created some confusion over how to handle infrastructure spending. Asked by TPM whether he was conceding President Obama’s point in his State of the Union that federal investments were the key to “winning the future,” Graham said he supports public spending to create jobs.
“I would say that putting money into infrastructure that creates jobs is a good thing to do with taxpayer dollars,” he said.
Graham said that he had the support of his state colleague Sen. Jim Demint (R-SC), who has played a major role in boosting the Tea Party and opposing earmarks.
“Jim’s been helpful,” Graham said, adding that DeMint “absolutely” supported the project to deepen the port. But according to the Wall Street Journal, Demint has been a vocal opponent of the project, whether its funded through earmarks or through the Army Corps of Engineers, where the $50,000 cut is taken from. TPM asked DeMint’s office to confirm their position and will post their reply.
While he plans to hold up White House nominations over the port, he says he will not filibuster the spending agreement, a move that could lead to a brief government shutdown. In any case, his efforts may already be paying off.
“The Vice President called yesterday. He’s wanting to help me,” Graham said. “It’s not too big of an ask.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.