A Kentucky kickback?

Mitch McConnell is taking criticism for a provision in the Senate compromise bill that allocates [actually raises the cap for what can be allocated later] almost $3 billion for a project the Minority Leader previously has backed for a dam and lock project on the Ohio River. The dam project reportedly would benefit Kentucky as well as Tennessee and Illinois.

As Eliana Johnson reports, this provision has been characterized as the “Kentucky kickback.”

Eliana also notes that there has been pushback against the criticism. For one thing, McConnell apparently did not request that funding for the dam be included in the legislation. Rather, the request came from Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Dianne Feinstein of California. They are, respectively, the ranking member and the chairman of the relevant Senate Committee.

Moreover, Alexander defended the funding. He argued that “according to the Army Corps of Engineers, 160 million taxpayer dollars will be wasted because of canceled contracts if this language is not included.”

I’m not sure it matters whether McConnell requested that the funding be included in his compromise with Harry Reid. It was known to be something he favored and he agreed to its inclusion.

As for spending almost $3 billion to save $160 million, it’s an argument. But the real questions, to the extent we’re genuinely concerned about this matter as opposed to looking for a “gotcha,” are: (1) whether the underlying project is worth the money and (2) whether the compromise legislation contains similar accommodations for other projects around the country, if any, that face similar circumstances.

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