Every Republican senator had a chance to object to the Kentucky dam spending provision of the debt limit deal that angered conservatives but none did.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., alerted the conference that the bill would include funding authorization for an Ohio River project in Kentucky during a Wednesday meeting.
"It's not an earmark and no one suggested it was or raised a complaint at the Time either," Alexander spokesman Ryan Loskarn told the Washington Examiner.
But the funding immediately drew the ire of grassroots groups who suspected the work of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
"In exchange for funding Obamacare and raising the debt limit, Mitch McConnell secured a $2 billion Kentucky kickback," Senate Conservatives Fund executive director Matt Hoskins said of the provision. "This is what's wrong with Washington and it's what's wrong with Mitch McConnell."
The Examiner's Tim Carney has done a lot of reporting on the "bipartisan establishment" that makes such deals, but that narrative doesn't fit in this case if (what he calls) the K Street and the Tea Party wings of the Republican Party both signed off on the deal.
Alexander argued that the authorization is not an earmark because the House and Senate have already voted for the measure in earlier legislation.
“According to the Army Corps of Engineers, 160 million taxpayer dollars will be wasted because of canceled contracts if this language is not included,” the Tennessee senator told Time.
“Senator Feinstein and I, as chairman and ranking member of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, requested this provision. It has already been approved this year by the House and Senate.”
In any case, the flap is another sign of the tension between conservative activist groups representing the Republican base and congressional Republicans who didn't want to use the continuing resolution to defund Obamacare, given the inevitability of the government shutdown.
The conservative base doesn't trust the Republican leadership to fight Obamacare or authorize funding for a dam on the Ohio River.
The McConnell team, on the other hand, is left fuming that a bruising, unsought Obamacare fight ended with the minority leader having a "Kentucky Kickback" hung around his neck — a phrase that riffs off of McConnell's name for the deal that convinced then-Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., to vote for the health care bill in the first place.