A top Senate Republican has pledged to block action on several pending judicial nominations until funding for a Charleston port project is approved, leading the White House to intervene in an effort to break the impasse.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters Wednesday that he will block votes on any nominations until he is assured that $40,000 will be devoted to a study related to deepening the Port of Charleston.
Graham said he had originally requested that the money be included in the deal funding the government for the rest of the current fiscal year, but that the final agreement hammered out by President Obama and congressional leaders late last week did not include it.
In response to his pledge to block the nominations, Graham said that Vice President Joe Biden called him on Tuesday to discuss the port funding.
“He said, ‘What can we do to help?’” Graham said of the conversation. “I said, ‘Joe, I’m going to get back with you soon!’ And he tried to help me in the negotiations. This was a House problem, not a Senate problem.”
The funding is necessary in order to make sure the port is deep enough to handle oversized cargo ships that are “going to dominate the shipping lanes” in the coming years, Graham said.
In defending the project – which amounts to a trifle in funding compared with the $38 billion in cuts that the 2011 budget deal would enact – Graham delivered a lengthy defense of infrastructure spending, a budget item that the White House has strongly backed as necessary if America is to “out-innovate” other countries and create jobs.
“If you’re a Republican and you want to create jobs, then you need to invest in infrastructure that will allow us to create jobs,” Graham said. “So, for $40,000 or $50,000, we can keep on track the deepening of a port that is a huge economic engine for the southeast. We have lost our way. The Obama administration talks about export jobs, but if you don’t invest in ports, how are you going to get the goods to go to other parts of the world?”
Graham added that there are 260,000 jobs either directly or indirectly tied to the Port of Charleston and that the overall price-tag for the six- or seven-year project will be $350 million, which would be split between the federal government and South Carolina.
Graham, who also noted that he would have planned to vote in favor of the long-term spending deal this week if it had included the port funding, said that a longer solution to the port funding would not be necessary in order for him to lift his hold on the nominations.
“It’s not too big of an ask,” Graham said. “We’re talking about a $40,000 need in Charleston to make sure the port doesn’t fall a year behind. And when people get focused on it, I think it’ll get solved.”