The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Port Earmark Divides South Carolina Senators

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


Citing the need to modernize the Port of Charleston, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) submitted a $400,000 earmark to the Senate version of the fiscal year 2011 Energy and Water Appropriations Act to study the port’s potential deepening.  However, the Senate Appropriations Committee rejected the project. 

Sen. Graham reacted bitterly, citing the port’s role in providing 260,800 jobs, $11.8 billion in wages, and $1.5 billion in state and local taxes.  Sen. Graham also asserted that disunity in the South Carolina delegation was to blame for his failed attempts to secure funds.  South Carolina’s other senator, Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), disapproved of the project, and faced criticism in his home state.

Sen. DeMint responded to the criticism with an op-ed in the Charleston Post and Courier on September 19, 2010 in which he made the case that the lack of earmarks is not what threatens the Port of Charleston, but rather “…an unfair earmarking process that rewards those who curry favor with powerful lobbyists and politicians, while ignoring the merit of projects.”  He went on to describe the larger problem of congressional earmarks:  “This same bill spent $1 million for Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Research and Development, $2 million for Algae Biofuel Research and funded 27 different projects in Hawaii for the Chairman of the Committee. When Washington spends millions on seaweed and algae research while forsaking funding for one of the nation’s largest ports, and finances 10 times as many projects in a state with a third of the population of South Carolina, the system is clearly broken.”

In the meantime, two lawmakers agreed with Sen. Graham about why his earmark was killed.  Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) stated in a September 26, 2010 article in CQpolitics.com that, “In cases where you have a state where one [senator] asks for an earmark, the other opposes all earmarks, that makes it a more difficult project to fund.”  Subcommittee Ranking Member Robert Bennett (R-Utah) agreed, stating the earmark was rejected in part because “there was no request at all from Sen. DeMint.”

The issue has also exposed rifts in the Republican Party beyond the South Carolina delegation.  Commenting in the CQ article, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) claimed that: “The most important thing for a conservative to understand is not just that it’s your Constitutional obligation, but that if you don’t do it, it doesn’t save anything…If you don’t ask for it for your state, it goes right back to the bureaucracy.”  It is also important to understand that just because money is available for an earmark does not mean it needs to be spent on an earmark.

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