WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama asked lawmakers Monday to spend $3.5 million to explore deepening the Charleston port as part of the $3.8 trillion budget he sent to Congress for the 2013 fiscal year.
The new money for the Charleston port-deepening study by the Army Corps of Engineers would be in addition to $2.5 million the agency allocated last week for the same project.
Bill Stern, chairman of the S.C. Ports Authority, said deepening the port from 45 feet to 50 feet is necessary to accommodate giant cargo ships that will arrive along the Atlantic seaboard after the Panama Canal widening is completed in 2014.
"We are incredibly grateful to the (Obama) administration for recognizing the importance of the port of Charleston in the national economic strategy," Stern said.
Although Obama's budget is unlikely to pass Congress in the heat of an election year, Sen. Lindsey Graham said his "presidential earmark" will make it easier for the Seneca Republican to help appropriate the money to expand the port-deepening study.
Graham said he worked with House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn of Columbia, Republican Rep. Tim Scott of North Charleston and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley to persuade Obama to request Charleston port study money.
"I feel really good that working together, we put the Charleston harbor deepening on everyone's radar screen, including the (Obama) administration," Graham said. " . . . But the budget as a whole is not going to see the light of day."
Scott, a tea party-backed former state representative who ran a fierce anti-spending congressional campaign, said the Charleston port is the type of smart investment the federal government should make.
"It has gone through a merit-based process to prove its importance to our nation and has obviously proven that worth not only to those of us in South Carolina, but to the president, as well," Scott said.
"While there are many problems with the president's budget -- tax hikes and spending increases, to name two -- this is something he got right," he said.
Graham and other GOP lawmakers also criticized Obama's spending plan for the 2013 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, saying it would raises taxes and produce more than $1 trillion in new debt.
Obama's proposal includes $15.5 million for dredging of the Charleston harbor, but it has no maintenance money for the Georgetown harbor and little for other South Carolina waterways.
The Obama budget seeks to spend about $807 million on nuclear waste cleanup at the Savannah River Site in Aiken County, plus almost $570 million to continue building a Mixed Oxide Fuel plant at SRS to help convert 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium from Russia.