Mitch McConnell gets nearly $3 billion for Kentucky dam project in congressional deal

Most experts agree that there were no real winners in the government shutdown debate. And many political forecasters say the brunt of fallout from the debate over the shutdown and the debt ceiling is likely to hurt Republican lawmakers.

However, the nation’s leading Republican senator came out of the deal far from empty handed. That’s because it’s been reported that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell secured language in the new government funding bill that includes nearly $3 billion for a dam project in his home state of Kentucky.

According to reports, a provision in the funding bill includes $2.918 billion in funding to the Army Corps of Engineers to install locks as part of the Olmsted Dam and Lock Authority Project on the Ohio River.

A recent investigation by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch found that the project has run millions of dollars over budget and should have been completed “years ago.” The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that the project will not be fully complete until 2024.

McConnell’s spokesman dodged a question about the funding provision when asked by local radio affiliate WFPL.

“Senators (Diane) Feinstein and (Lamar) Alexander, the chair and ranking member of the energy and water subcommittee, worked on the issue and can help you," spokesman Robert Steurer told the station.

The Wall Street Journal says the funding is a substantial increase from the $755 million in funding initially designated for the project. They said the provision was the largest included in the government funding bill agreement reached on Wednesday, along with funding for a roads project in Colorado.

For his part, Alexander said he supported the provision, noting the House and Senate had already approved it earlier this year.

“According to the Army Corps of Engineers, 160 million taxpayer dollars will be wasted because of canceled contracts if this language is not included. Sen. [Diane] Feinstein and I, as chairman and ranking member of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, requested this provision,” Alexander said in a statement to BuzzFeed.

Alexander’s home state of Tennessee is also expected to benefit from the Olmsted dam project, along with Illinois.

The provision is not technically an earmark, the now barred forms of special project funding that for years was added to larger spending bills in order to win the support of lawmakers.

However, that didn’t stop the conservative watchdog site Senate Conservatives Fund from going after McConnell.

“Well now U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has an Obamacare earmark of his own,” the site said in a post on Wednesday, comparing the provision to a funding provision won over by Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson in 2009 in exchange for his vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act.

“This is an insult to all the Kentucky families who don't want to pay for Obamacare and don't want to shoulder any more debt,” the site says.

McConnell faces a Republican primary challenge in his 2014 re-election race from Tea Party candidate Matt Bevin. Recent polls McConnell facing a potentially tight race against his likely Democratic opponent, Allison Lundergan Grimes.

SEE RELATED SLIDESHOW: US Government Shutdown.