NASHVILLE — Republican Senate candidate Joe Carr is up with his first ad, a 30-second spot slamming U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., for his including money for a Ohio River lock and dam in last week's budget package that ended the government shutdown.
"Washington's broken, and it's getting worse," Carr says in the ad, on which the campaign says it is spending about $20,000 to run on Fox News in Tennessee. "For weeks conservatives fought the good fight to cut spending and defund Obamacare. But Lamar Alexander was behind closed doors trading favors."
Standing in front of a dam in Tennessee, Carr says "amid the chaos Lamar snuck in $3 billion for a dam like this one. $3 billion. No darned way."
But the Alexander campaign says Carr's arguments don't hold water.
"If Pinocchio had written this campaign ad, his nose would be a foot long," Alexander campaign manager Alice Rolli said in a statement. "According to the Army Corps of Engineers, instead of costing money, this provision actually saved taxpayers $160 million in canceled contracts and restart costs."
The budget agreement increased the authorization for the Olmsted Locks and Dam on the Ohio River from $1.7 billion to $2.9 billion to help finish the Army Corps of Engineers' lock project.
Alexander, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations subcommittee, has previously said that without the authorization, the project would stop next month.
The senator said $160 million "will be wasted because of canceled contracts if this language is not included."
When it was revealed the authorization language was included last week, conservative groups pounced on Alexander as well as U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., calling it a "Kentucky kickback" to benefit McConnell since the river borders Kentucky.
Mike Braden, the district chief for the Army Corps of Engineers in Louisville, told the Times Free Press last week that the higher authorization allows work to proceed on the new dam toward its planned completion in 2020.
Rolli said the project had already been approved once by the House and Senate this year and only allows spending already appropriated. One-fifth of all traffic on the American Inland Waterway system goes through the 1920s-era lock and dam, she noted, and added the corps says it is "failing, crumbling and obsolete." Every time a ship goes through the locks, workers must remove and replace 487 wooden gates."
Meanwhile, Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group, says the language is included in a massive water resources bill coming up on the House floor this week.
The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure last month unanimously approved bipartisan water resources reform legislation. The panel says in a news release the bill "cuts federal red tape and bureaucracy, streamlines the infrastructure project delivery process, fosters fiscal responsibility, and strengthens our water transportation networks to promote America's competitiveness, prosperity, and economic growth."
Taxpayers for Common Sense, a longtime critic of Army Corps projects, disagrees and doesn't think it holds much reform.
"Oh, and about the Kentucky Kickback," the group says in an email. "Yup, the Olmsted lock project gets another star turn."
The group says under the House committee's Water Resources Reform and Development Act, the project would only take the authorization to $2.3 billion, explaining the Senate action took authorization from $775 million, which is actually $1.7 billion under a cost construction index, to $2.9 million.
"But more importantly for the industry boosters," Taxpayers for Common Sense said of the House bill, "now Uncle Sam will shoulder 75 percent of the cost for this mess. Currently it's 50-50 between the Treasury and the Trust Fund generated by industry fuel tax."
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...