Taxpayers for Common Sense: House water bill 'subsidizes Kentucky kickback'

The conservative Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) group is criticizing a water infrastructure bill that is scheduled to come up for a vote in the House on Tuesday for "subsidizing" a dam project in Kentucky that was included in the deal that was approved last week to reopen the federal government.

Conservative groups sharply criticized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for allegedly putting an increase in funding for the Olmsted Locks and Dam, which is under construction on the Ohio River between Kentucky and Illinois, into the agreement he reached with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to end the government shutdown. 

The taxpayers' group said on Monday that the lower chamber's Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) would further increase the federal government's involvement in the project, which has been dubbed the "Kentucky kickback."  

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"Oh, and about the Kentucky Kickback. Yup, the Olmsted lock project gets another star turn," the group wrote in an email. "Last week, the authorization went from $775 million ($1.7 billion when you count their construction cost index) to $2.9 billion. This bill would have only taken it to $2.3 billion. But more importantly for the industry boosters, now Uncle Sam will shoulder 75 percent of the cost for this mess. Currently it’s 50-50 between the Treasury and the Trust Fund generated by industry fuel tax."

McConnell’s office has denied responsibility for the water provision in the debt bill, telling The Hill last week that it was inserted into the measure by the White House and the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“The process is that OMB (the White House) submits a list which is scrubbed by chair and ranker (Feinstein/Alexander) of each subcommittee (energy and water in this case),” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, in an email. “We are not OMB or the chair/ranking member of the subcommittee.”

The House water bill has been a rare piece of bipartisan legislation in a period that has seen a two-week government shutdown and a near-default on U.S. debt. Supporters have argued that the bill, which includes the authorization for ports and waterways projects, will boost jobs.

The TCS said on Monday however that the bill would lead to an increase in wasteful spending

"Taxpayers for Common Sense has long worked to reform the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – the original pork barrel agency (I’ve got a Ways & Means Committee Report from 1836 documenting 25 wasteful Corps projects)," the group wrote. "So you’d think we’d like the House bill coming to the floor Wednesday, H.R. 3080 the “Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013.” In the past, they were just WRDAs, but this is WRRDA and the extra “R” is for reform. Actually, it should be retread.

"The first claim from boosters is that the bill doesn’t have any earmarks. That's true. Instead, it creates a new project delivery system, but one without the prioritization and performance criteria that the Corps so sorely needs," the TCS e-mail continued. "The agency has a $60-80 billion backlog in authorized projects not yet constructed, and they get about $2 billion in construction funding annually. This bill would add $10 billion to the backlog with a promise of cutting $12 billion later – a $2 billion net backlog reduction is bubkis."

-This post was updated from an earlier version to clarify the TCS' position on the water bill on Oct. 22 at 11:08 a.m.