U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, said Thursday he has given up on trying to secure $400,000 legislatively to study the deepening of the Charleston port and instead will seek the money administratively.
In a call with S.C. media, Clyburn said U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-Greenville, repeatedly has blocked his efforts to get the study money included in the federal budget. The money is to explore deepening the Port of Charleston to accommodate mega-cargo ships expected to dominate sea traffic in the future.
DeMint's office fired back Thursday that DeMint is trying to clear the backlog of more than a thousand earmarks that are overwhelming the Corps of Engineers and trying to create a nonpartisan commission to fund worthy projects.
Said Wesley Denton, DeMint's spokesman: "The era of earmarks is over as Democrat leaders, Republican leaders and the President all united to end the broken system that funded wasteful projects over real national priorities like the Charleston Port. Instead of partisan finger-pointing from Congressman Clyburn, he should join the effort to reform the system that has failed South Carolina."
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Prodded by DeMint and others, President Barack Obama has vowed to veto any earmarks in the budget.
As a result, Clyburn said Thursday he will take a different tactic to get the money for the project, which advocates say is vital to South Carolina's manufacturers, which are heavy exporters.
"Rather than pursue any kind of earmarking, I have decided that I will deal with it administratively ... because there's no way to deal with it legislatively without doing an earmark," Clyburn said. "So I'm not going to fly in the face of the president's vow to veto anything with an earmark ... but I'm doing everything I possibly can do to get this done. I feel optimistic that we can get this done."
Clyburn said he hopes to find the money by Sept. 30 when the federal fiscal year ends. He said he has spoken with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, both fellow Democrats, on the issue, seeking guidance. He also said he has spoken with the secretary of U.S. Transportation Department, seeking a solution.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, who backs the study, has said the deepening project would take six to seven years and cost about $350 million, to be split between the state and federal government.