If the Port of Charleston, South Carolina is going to be able to accommodate the super-sized cargo ships expected to pass through the newly-widened Panama Canal in 2014, then it likely will have to be dredged and made deeper.
But the question of how to pay for that project is dredging up some disagreements between the Palmetto State’s two Republican U.S. senators.
On one side, Sen. Lindsey Graham tried and failed to get federal funding to study expanding the port.
“The amount of money is $40,000 on the federal side to be matched by the state,” Graham said on the Senate floor earlier this month.
But fellow South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint opposes it. DeMint is staunchly committed to reining in that kind of federal spending, according to political analyst Michael Barone.
“The Congress generally has moved in the direction of not earmarking federal spending projects,” Barone said. “Sen. DeMint has been one of the leaders in this.”
And caught in the middle are newly elected South Carolina Republican representatives, such as Tim Scott. He has been working with Graham to find a way to get the money, but he has also pledged to be fiscally restrained and end earmarks.
“We find ourselves in a very difficult position,” Scott said. “But at the end of the day you cannot -- now I've got to emphasize this -- you cannot have a process that identifies and/or earmarks specifically for Charleston.”
Graham upped the ante last week when he threatened to hold up President Obama's nominations for various government positions if the Charleston project isn’t considered.
"No nominations go forward in Senate until we address CHS port," he said in an April 12th tweet. But Graham has since backed away from that assertion.
In the meantime, the sole South Carolina Democrat in the House is chiding the anti-earmarkers.
“If we are going to allow our ideology to harm our state's economy, I think there is something wrong with that,” Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said.
Graham and DeMint are working together to try to develop a federal ports account within the Army Corps of Engineers. That would create a merit-based system that would ultimately funnel money to the Charleston port project.