The end of the government shutdown will help unlock more money for completion of a major Ohio River dam, which is eating up most of the money needed to fund the restart of the stalled Chickamauga Lock in Chattanooga.
But the move to boost the funding authorization for the Olmsted Lock and Dam project is drawing fire for its sponsors. Critics on Thursday denounced the move to raise the amount of money that can be spent for the Olmsted Lock as an earmark that will boost the federal budget deficit.
The Senate Conservatives Fund, a conservative think tank, called the measure "the Kentucky kickback" since it would help a project along the northern border of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's home state of Kentucky.
"In exchange for funding ObamaCare and raising the debt limit, Mitch McConnell has secured a $2 billion earmark," said Mark Hoskins, executive director for the Senate Conservatives Fund. "This is an insult to all the Kentucky families who don't want to pay for Obamacare and don't want to shoulder any more debt."
The budget agreement adopted by Congress late Wednesday increased the funding authorization for the Olmsted Locks and Dam from $1.7 billion to $2.9 billion to help finish the Army Corps of Engineers' project. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations subcommittee, said he and committee chairwoman Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., agreed to include the higher authorization in the temporary budget agreement to ensure the Olmsted project didn't shut down.
Alexander said $160 million "will be wasted because of canceled contracts if this language is not included."
Mike Braden, the district chief for the Army Corps of Engineers in Louisville, said Thursday that the higher authorization will allow work to proceed on the new dam toward its planned completion in 2020. The Olmsted Dam and Lock project has increased in cost from its initial $775 million estimate in the 1980s to $2.9 billion today. Those increases have absorbed virtually all of the available matching funds from barge taxes that flow into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, forcing the shut down of other lock projects such as the new lock at the Chickamauga Dam.
Congress must still appropriate more money to complete the Olmsted, Chickamauga and other lock projects, but this week's Congressional action will prevent the Corps of Engineers from having to dismantle equipment and shut down work at Olmsted, Braden said.
Alexander also was criticized from a Republican rival for supporting the overall budget agreement to end the government shutdown and raise the federal debt ceiling.
State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Tenn., who is challenging Alexander next year in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate, said Alexander "sold-out Tennesseans."
"He agreed to a deal that gave into the demands of President Obama and Sen. Harry Reid and did not even begin to tackle our spending problem or in any meaningful way rescue Americans from the harmful effects of ObamaCare," Carr said of Alexander's vote in favor of the budget deal. "That's not conservative and that's not acceptable."
Carr said he would have joined U.S. Sens.Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, "and the rest of the real conservatives in Washington" who opposed the plan to reopen the government after a two week shutdown.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340.
Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...