State of the Union vs. Real Politic

Container ship Bahia Laura

Last night’s State of the Union address was standard and predictable: high-minded appeals to a better future and how we’re going to get there, with few specifics. States of the Union are never very specific, however and the Republican responses to it were also predictable and standard. Honestly, yesterday was a pretty boring day for politics, nationally, and the theme of the day was “reduce spending”.

Georgia, however, has an interesting stake in this reduce-spending game. You may not be aware, but the Port of Savannah is one of the busiest container ports in the United States, generating a lot of jobs for Georgia. You may also not be aware that we are three years away from the completion of the Panama Canal Expansion project, which will allow supersized container vessels to more easily traverse the oceans. Georgia has an interest in attracting these enormous ships to our ports, but in order to do so, the Savannah River has to be dredged. The current depth of the river is 42 feet, but there needs to be 48 feet in order to pass the new ships.

This is an expensive proposition. Cost estimates I’ve seen range from $500 million to $800 million (here’s one). Georgia wants the federal government to kick in a good portion of that.

This has run our home-grown congressional legislation, who are mostly Republican, squarely into a philosophical quandry: How to get the money while still appearing to reduce spending?

On the face of it, individually I don’t see that Georgia Congresscritters will have any real problem at home if they push for both. Their direct constituents (i.e., the ones who will vote for them in two years) will be happy if a huge glut of federal spending comes their way. However, this will present itself with more difficulty in a national election. The concept of the Albatross comes to mind.

My personal Congressman, Tom Graves, who is now on the appropriations committee has stated that he will not support an earmark for the port. This differs from both my Senators, who will. You may recall back in November there was a symbolic pledge by both the House and Senate Republicans to swear off earmarks for two years. However, one of those little things that make such a difference is that there was nothing in that pledge that said they had to vote against bills that do contain earmarks. If somehow those earmarks ended up in there, they could just whistle a happy tune and claim they had nothing to do with it.

How will this all fall out? Who knows? Politics is a slippery game. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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