"This is something that is merit-based and is fair, and I'm going to continue to do everything I can, my friend from South Carolina, to see if before the end of this fiscal year we can get something done," he said.
Graham had spent the early part of the week angrily tweeting threats to shutdown the Senate nomination process because the funds weren't included in last Friday's 11th-hour budget deal or President Obama's 2012 budget request. But he seemed satisfied by Reid's agreement to try to find a legislative vehicle to fix the problem.
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."
Needless to say, there are 12 ports across the country that are ready to begin first-year feasibility studies, including Charleston, as well as 11 other ports in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Hawaii, Alaska and North Carolina.
House Congressional leaders last week rejected the language, apparently because it sounded too much like an earmark.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), the leading champion of the Senate's earmark ban, would much rather focus on legislation he sponsored with Graham that would create an independent commission to determine the merits of Army Corps of Engineer projects, including the deepening study for the Port of Charleston, which he supports. DeMint would also like to see private money pitch in to underwrite the port study and disagrees with Graham that federal law would prevent privately funding it.
"The era of earmarks is over as Democrat leaders, Republican leaders and the President all united to end the broken system that funded wasteful projects over real national priorities," DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton said in statement to TPM.
DeMint also had some harsh words for Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), who earlier Thursday harshly criticized the senator for blocking the funding for the port, by first stripping out an earmark for it Clyburn had secured and then failing to sign a letter to White House asking the President to include it in his 2012 budget request.
"Instead of partisan finger-pointing from Congressman Clyburn, he should join the effort to reform the system that has failed South Carolina and the nation," Denton continued. "This is why Senator DeMint has opposed earmarks and offered substantive reforms that would clear the backlog of over a thousand earmarks that currently overwhelms the Corps of Engineers, create a nonpartisan commission to ensure meritorious projects are funded, and give states more control over the port taxes they collect and greater ability to privately fund critical projects."
In addition, DeMint accused Clyburn of being a Johnny-Come-Lately to the issue and waiting to support the Port of Charleston until late last year when he figured out the port deepening would have such a major impact on the state's economy. In previous years, while a House member, DeMint had supported several earmarks for the Port of Charleston but has since sworn off all earmarks.
"Congressman Clyburn was a high-ranking leader and a member of the appropriations committee when his party was in charge of Congress for the last four years. During that time, he used his power and influence to direct millions of dollars from the military to unnecessary golf earmarks instead of working on the Charleston Port, which he said just last fall was not his priority."