While the House of Representatives have been locked in a wrestling match with the White House for weeks over the budget, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., KY) has been quietly forging a deal that would re-open the federal government – largely on the terms of the Democratic members. This morning, however, various sites are reporting on an added item to the deal: a $3 billion earmark for Kentucky. They are calling it the ‘Kentucky Kickback” and objecting to how these deals reflect the resumption of “business as usual” in terms of spending.
The money is for the massive Olmsted Dam Lock in Paducah, Ky., which is massively over-budget. The earmark would increase the appropriations for the dam from $775 million to nearly $2.9 billion.
It is worth noting that (while the over-runs should be investigated for breathtakingly poor management and dubious contracting practices by the Corps of Engineers) the dam itself is viewed as important to commerce along the Ohio river. There are also obviously good reasons to end the shutdown regardless any greasing of the skids by the White House with McConnell. However, the timing is being criticized as another example of how national emergencies are used by members to raid the treasury.
As cover, McConnell is sending reporters to Democratic members like Dianne Feinstein and saying it was their idea. In the end, it is not just the timing but the failure of the Congress to engage in meaningful oversight on the costs of such projects that is so disturbing. Once again, it would seem that the Corps either radically underestimated a project (showing utter incompetence) or failed to control the charges and over-runs of contractors (showing utter incompetence). Yet, everyone was saved by the shutdown. The money will follow to Kentucky like the endless roaring Ohio.