Guess Who Got $2 Billion For A Dam In Congress Last Night

  • Share
  • Read Later
Win McNamee / Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives at the U.S. Capitol October 16, 2013 in Washington, DC.

The bill that ended the government shutdown and forestalled a debt crisis Wednesday night had at its core what the country expected: it funded the government and averted default. But that was not all.

Among its less well-known provisions were a number of long-standing funding requests, including $450 million in Colorado flood relief and $600 million to fight forest fires. There was also some back pay for state workers funded through federal grants, and money for the widow of the late New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

But one of the most notable additions to the 35-page bill was a $2.1 billion increase in funding for a dam under construction on the Kentucky-Illinois border, which just happens to be the home turf of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). It has raised the alarm bells of conservatives, who have long complained about Republicans who spend heavily on their home states. One group, the Senate Conservatives Fund, immediately christened the dam project the “Kentucky Kickback.”

“The McConnell-Reid bill not only funds Obamacare and suspends the debt limit, it ALSO includes a provision…that increases the authorization for the Olmsted Lock in Kentucky from $775 million to nearly $3 billion,” writes SCF in a statement. “In exchange for funding Obamacare and raising the debt limit, Mitch McConnell has secured a $2 billion earmark.”

When asked about the project, McConnell’s office referred TIME to Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), two members on the Senate committee that is responsible for appropriations. Their office said McConnell was not directly responsible for inserting the language. “According to the Army Corps of Engineers, 160 million taxpayer dollars will be wasted because of canceled contracts if this language is not included,” wrote Sen. Alexander in a statement to TIME. “Senator 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.” A spokesman for Sen. Feinstein agreed that the increased funding was nothing new.

But that is unlikely to be the final word spoken on the subject. Founded by Heritage Foundation Chairman Jim DeMint, the Senate Conservatives Fund has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars against McConnell in his 2014 Kentucky senate race. “Mitch McConnell is negotiating the Republican surrender,” said Matt Hoskins, executive director of the group, according to the Hill Monday. No matter how the project originated, the group is sure to use the “Kentucky Kickback” as a catchy new shorthand to portray McConnell as a Washington insider, in the hopes of making the dam a factor in next year’s election.