WASHINGTON — A deal to reopen the government and avert a debt default also includes language authorizing more than $2.8 billion in funding for a locks and dam project championed in the past by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The provision would steer $2.918 billion in funding to the Army Corps of Engineers for the Olmsted dam and lock project on the Ohio River, and would benefit Kentucky, Tennessee, and Illinois.
The language is only one of several provisions lawmakers have tucked into the must pass spending and debt bill which would reopen the government through Jan. 15 and extend the nation's credit line until the middle of February.
According to a Sen. Lamar Alexander, the provision was needed to ensure $160 million in contracts are not cancelled by the Army Corps of Engineers.
"According to the Army Corps of Engineers, 160 million taxpayer dollars will be wasted because of canceled contracts if this language is not included. Sen. [Diane] Feinstein and I, as chairman and ranking member of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, requested this provision. It has already been approved this year by the House and Senate," Alexander said in a statement to BuzzFeed.
A Senate insider, who asked not to be identified, acknowledged that the project has substantive merits and is not merely an earmark. "There's legitimate arguments for this. But there's legitimate arguments for things like this across the country. That's the problem," the insider said.
Although the language was inserted by Feinstein and Alexander, whose home state of Tennessee would also benefit from the project, McConnell has been its historical champion. In fact, the Kentucky lawmaker secured hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks for the Olmsted project before lawmakers ended the practice several years ago.