Lindsey Graham Has Meltdown Over Earmark Cut In Budget Deal

The thing about legislative compromises is nobody gets everything they want. That's a fact of life for the 435 members of the House of Representatives and the 100 Senators who occasionally find themselves having to craft a deal that will get the President's signature. Sometimes it works out that they're left with something that most people will vote for, and sometimes it doesn't, but most legislators handle it with at least a dollop of dignity and grace. And then there's Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Lindsey Graham has styled himself as the Senate's great dealmaker -- the guy who will shepherd your measure through the partisan thicket and make sure it passes. All you have to do is do everything precisely the way Graham imagines it needs to be done, and you'll be fine. But the moment you hit one of his cryptic procedural tripwires -- ones you often didn’t know were laid in the first place -- Graham goes into full-on snit-fit mode, and vows to use whatever means at his disposal to shut the whole process down.

He's doing it again over the budget deal that was wrought April 8, because it cut an allocation that was to be used to fund an Army Corps of Engineers project that would have deepened the Port of Charleston. As Susan Crabtree at Talking Points Memo reports:

Graham started a string of angry tweets about the omission early Tuesday. By the end of the day, he had held a press conference on the issue in Charleston, S.C., and was blaming the Obama administration for failing to include the funding in its budget proposal released in February, arguing that 260,000 jobs are tied to the port.

"Obama Admin made a bad mistake not putting money for CHS port in their budget proposal," he wrote.

"No nominations go forward in Senate until we address CHS port," he tweeted, noting that the provision was not an earmark and applied to a dozen ports across the U.S.

That's right. Graham was seemingly happy to participate in the wide-ranging debate on the need to drastically reduce spending, until the scalpel fell on something he wanted. And now, he's going to hold up future nominations until he gets his way.

By the way, as Crabtree's colleague Benjy Sarlin points out: now Lindsey Graham wants to argue that government spending creates 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," he said at a press conference with Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee on Social Security in response to a question from TPM. "Congress, Republicans and Democrats, talk about creating jobs. How can you create jobs by shutting a port down that 260,000 people depend on?"

In assailing everyone for cutting his port money -- the lone example of worthy government spending and the government's last best hope, apparently, at creating a single private sector job -- Graham has gotten it into his head that he has the full support of his South Carolina Senate colleague Jim Demint (R). Graham told reporters that "Jim's been helpful," and that "DeMint 'absolutely' supported the project to deepen the port."

None of that is remotely true. DeMint opposes the project, because it is an earmark and Jim DeMint hates earmarks, up to and including this one, which he personally killed.

Graham's antics are a matter that Alex Pareene has very fully documented at Salon's War Room:

The South Carolina senator fancies himself the authority on when bills should be considered, how long the amendment process should last, how many days of debate they should receive, and when it is politically "safe" to finally vote on the damn things. (Usually later. No matter the bill, it will usually be safe to actually hold a vote later.)

His tantalizing promise: If you listen to him, your bill will magically become bipartisan! What always happens, though, is that someone screws up -- says the wrong thing to Roll Call, schedules a procedural vote on the wrong day, decides to actually hold a vote instead of waiting forever -- and then Lindsey Graham gets mad and promises that nothing will ever be accomplished in the Senate again.


Legislation is entirely about feelings and deal-making for Graham. He'll join in apparently good-faith efforts to craft pragmatic solutions to complex problems, but the second anyone looks at him the wrong way he'll dive off the bandwagon and accuse everyone else of ruining the compromise by not following some bizarre script that exists solely in Lindsey Graham's head to the letter.

Graham is basically the legislature's version of Anthony Fremont, from the “Twilight Zone” episode "It's A Good Life," and his fellow lawmakers are the "family" he holds captive to his every whim.

Of course, I haven't yet told you the best part. The amount of the funding allocation that has Graham so incensed that he's threatening to shut down the already stalled nominations process is $50,000. That's five digits. Graham's net worth is estimated to be between $446,316 and $1,223,308 and he does a brisk trade with campaign donors of all stripes. He's also BFF with a guy who owns eight homes, so it seems to me that he could easily scare up the 50 grand on his own if it matters that much to him.

It's just that what matters more is that people do what he wants.

UPDATE: So, apparently this whole "can we fund this by other means?" question is one that a lot of folks are asking, and Andy Owens, the managing editor of SC Biz News has come through with an answer:

In covering this, we've asked the question of several local, state and national officials "Why not just pay for this port dredging study ourselves?"

Many are able and willing, but we've been told by port officials, Sen. Graham and several others that if this is done outside the scope of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for example by the SPA itself, then that agency would be responsible for the entire deepening project, which is estimated to be around $300 million, not including ongoing maintenance.

So, my bad: Senator Graham and his donors are off the hook. Many thanks to Andy. If you've a yen to learn more about business development in South Carolina, please consider his Charleston Regional Business Journal, or SC BIZ Magazine.

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