Monday, October 21, 2013

#Lamarwatch: Carr On The Air With Dam Ad

Posted By on Mon, Oct 21, 2013 at 9:23 AM

Before the ink is even dry on the budget deal, Joe Carr's campaign has put out an ad laying into the Senior Senator for the so-called "Kentucky Kickback:"

Carr's campaign says they've bought time on Fox News broadcasts in Tennessee.

But does the ad ring true?

The script:

Washington’s broken and it's getting worse. For weeks, conservatives fought the good fight to cut spending and defund ObamaCare. Lamar Alexander however, was behind closed doors trading favors. Amid the chaos, Lamar snuck in three billion dollars for a dam . . . like this one. Three billion for a dam? No darn way. I'm Joe Carr. I approve this message because I want to return our country to the constitutional principles that made it great.

The facts: Inserted into the budget deal was language which pushed the authorization for the Olmsted Lock and Dam on the Ohio River to $2.9 billion. The project, which began construction in 1995, replaces a century-old set of locks and dams and will cut from 5 hours to 1 hour the time it takes for a barge to pass through the choke point.

This is an ongoing project, not a new appropriation. When Carr says, "Lamar snuck in three billion dollars for a dam," it's at best disingenuous. The project was originally authorized for $775 million in 1988 and inflation has swelled the current cap to $1.9 billion. The budget deal raised the authorization to $2.9 billion, so, at most, we're talking about $1 billion. But that money would still have to be appropriated by Congress through the budget process (something, we would point out, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee obstructed all year as they attempted to defund Obamacare).

The Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for the project, points out that if the authorization had not passed, the government shutdown would have cost taxpayers millions in cancelled contracts.

Now, is the project necessary?

James Bruggers writes in the Courier-Journal:

The Olmsted project is one of the largest construction projects in the country. It’s way over budget, but also essential. The entire commercial navigation system of the Ohio River faces a choke point near Olmsted, where two locks and dams with century-old technology are barely cobbled together and at risk of failure.

If ever there was an example of crumbling infrastructure, those two locks and dams fit the bill. I’ve seen the cracked and patched concrete with my own eyes. The dam has a wicket section that relies on an ancient steam boat and hand crew.

In August, I wrote about the Army Corps of Engineers warning that without a spending limit increase, construction would stop in January, costing jobs and money:

"More than 600 construction workers would become unemployed, and the delay would further set back the federal project near Olmsted, Ill., and Monkeys Eyebrow, Ky., at least another year, adding $80 million more to the projected cost of $3 billion. Congress has balked at the $3 billion price tag from a revised corps estimate in 2011, refusing so far to approve the expense, Richard Hancock, director of the corps’ regional business office, said at a meeting of a federal waterways advisory board."

From a management perspective, the cost overruns are ridiculous. But when the Senior Senator and Diane Feinstein — ranking member and chair of the Senate committee which oversees the project — inserted the language into the final Senate budget package, they were keeping the government from throwing good money after bad in the form of cancelled contracts that the Corps had warned about.

These are the kinds of things that can be prevented when you actually negotiate a budget, something the Tea Party wing in Congress has been unwilling to do.

Did Alexander "sneak in $3 billion for a dam?" Nope. But that's not the kind of story you can tell in 30 seconds.

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