Feb. 12, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Locals Split on DeMint’s Earmark War

Many earmark opponents argue that funds will continue to flow to important local projects without earmarks, with decisions based on need rather than political muscle. In a statement provided to Roll Call, DeMint defended his stance and said it’s absurd to argue that his policy of refusing to request earmarks caused the port to lose federal dollars.

“It’s ridiculous and illogical to say that after four years of not requesting earmarks that suddenly this is the reason they denied funding for a national priority like the Charleston port,” DeMint said. “Folks in South Carolina know that the Democrats are in charge and they are the ones choosing to hurt South Carolina’s most important port and instead wasting billions on a failed jobs stimulus.”

He added, “Appropriators can’t pretend they are funding the nation’s top priorities when they keep spending taxpayer money based on which party is in power and who’s on the committee.”

In a Sept. 19 opinion piece intended to rebut a spate of criticism by newspaper editorial boards, bloggers and business leaders, DeMint wrote in the Charleston Post and Courier that the port’s future is “imperiled by an unfair earmarking process.” He said he is writing legislation to reform the way the Army Corps of Engineers selects projects, as well as how port dredging is funded. Most Army Corps funding is directed by earmarks.

DeMint also recently argued that his push to elect more conservatives will help his cause. “We’re close to changing a system that’s bankrupting the country,” he told the Greenville News.

Charleston County GOP Chairwoman Lin Bennett said she thinks the criticism of DeMint has been unfair, noting that primary voters recently chose another earmark opponent — Tim Scott — to be the nominee for the 1st district, which includes the Port of Charleston. Scott, who is likely to win in the heavily Republican district, would replace retiring GOP Rep. Henry Brown, who bucked his party leadership this year by ignoring its no-earmark pledge to push for money for the study in the House version of the measure.

“Earmarks are perceived to be special-interest money,” Lin Bennett said, adding that it should be the state government’s responsibility to fund projects at the port.

But Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who noted he has been labeled the “most conservative” by major publications and right-leaning groups, said anti-earmark crusaders such as DeMint do not understand their responsibility, as outlined in the U.S. Constitution, to control the purse strings.

“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,” Inhofe said last week. “If you don’t ask for it for your state, it goes right back to the bureaucracy.”

Inhofe added that Dorgan’s rule of thumb for projects requested by two Senators is a good one. “Honestly, I think there’s merit in the idea that all the delegation — both Senators and a Member of the House in the appropriate district — should agree this is what we need. Obviously, if they don’t agree, it makes it that much harder to do it,” he said.

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