Graham’s short-lived shakedown

GRAHAM’S SHORT-LIVED SHAKEDOWN…. We’ve been talking this week about Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) unfortunate shakedown plan — he’ll wreak havoc in the Senate until he’s paid off with federal funding for a project at the Port of Charleston. In an amusing twist, on Wednesday, the Republican said more public spending, especially in infrastructure, will help create jobs.

Yesterday, Graham backed down after a deal with the Senate Democratic leadership.

Another shutdown showdown averted — this time the shutdown of the Senate over the paltry sum of $50,000.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have reached an accommodation to provide $50,000 for a study on deepening the Port of Charleston, and now Graham is standing down and is no longer threatening to “tie the Senate in knots” and block Obama’s nominations from winning Senate approval.

The details are a little fuzzy, but apparently Reid has given his word that the Senate will figure out a way to approve the $50,000 before the end of the fiscal year. It seems likely that, given the expenditure’s tiny size, the funding will just be tacked on to some other bill.

One of the amusing angles to this is the lengths policymakers will go to in order to endorse an earmark, without making it a literal earmark.

The language would not violate an earmark ban, Graham argued, because it would not specify an amount of money for the project, would apply to 12 ports across the country including Charleston and would not direct the Army Corps to do the study.

Instead, Graham’s language would direct the Army Corps of Engineers to “prioritize” funds for harbor-deepening, including “those that are prepared and are ready to begin first year feasibility study-related activities.”

It just so happens that description will match up nicely with the Port of Charleston project Graham is fighting for.

It’s little things like this that make Congress such a silly place. Public confusion leads policymakers to conclude that all earmarks are “bad,” and endorse reform efforts to eliminate them. But policymakers also realize that they still want and need these funding measures, so they engage in procedural and rhetorical acrobatics to support earmarks that only look like earmarks.

Regardless, the squeaky wheel seems to have received the grease it wanted, and Graham has said he’ll no longer “tie the Senate in knots” and block pending nominations. The Senate lives to annoy another day.