Friday, April 15, 2011

Senate leader agrees to Graham's hostage demands

South Carolinian will not tie-up business over port

Posted by Greg Hambrick on Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 12:20 PM

From an early age, we were taught not to give in to the demands of hostage takers. But that, apparently, is not how it works in the U.S. Senate.

Earlier this week, Sen. Lindsey Graham came to Charleston exhausted from his mad search for $400,000 in federal money to deepen the Charleston Harbor. Out of options, he pledged to stall other Senate business until someone writes him a damn check.

Late Thursday, we learned that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, had agreed to help Graham find the money. Leading the South Carolina Senator to stand down on his threat to muck up the works in the Senate.

These types of projects are usually prioritized through the earmark system in which legislators direct federal money toward specific projects back home. But earmarks have been chased out of town, with many saying the system is a corrupt way for senior members to wield their influence. Unfortunately, it's been difficult for Graham to navigate this post-earmark era in the Senate and still find enough money to spend on a Charleston port that nobody else cares that much about.

The short-term solution would be to find $50,000 to start the process. The long-term solution would be changing the way that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prioritizes projects, usually determined by following the earmark directives from the legislature. Reid said he'd help find a funding solution by the end of the fiscal year that gives clarity to the Army Corps and an opportunity for Charleston.

"This would not guarantee that the port study in Charleston would go forward but would provide the Corps with the opportunity to move forward should they choose," Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday. "We as a country would get such a bang for our buck to do what is necessary for the Port of Charleston."

Having previously promised to "tie the Senate in knots," Graham responded to the show of support by releasing his hold on Senate business. "I released the holds I had placed on Senate business because I believe we are making good progress," Graham said in a statement on Friday. "I’m optimistic about the progress being made that will ensure the deepening study will be allowed to proceed this fiscal year.

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