WASHINGTON — The budget agreement worked out in Congress has disappointed every member of the South Carolina delegation after a highly desired nuclear power plant tax credit was left out.
Excluded from the plan that's supposed to keep the government running through September is a provision extending the deadline for nuclear power plants to take advantage of the tax bonus, threatening to undermine a major economic driver in the state.
At issue is a credit Congress created in 2005 to incentivize nuclear power production. But it gave plants a 2020 deadline to complete their work in order to qualify.
Westinghouse Electricity's recent bankruptcy filing, however, has had a profound effect on the V.C. Summer nuclear power plant's ability to stay on schedule, putting the site's future in question.
Jimmy Addison, SCANA's executive vice president and chief financial officer, said last week the production team needed assurances soon as to whether it would receive a deadline extension. Otherwise, SCANA would have to decide whether it could afford to continue construction at the site near Jenkinsville.
Lawmakers contend the loss of the tax incentive could contribute to a severe employment hit.
"We're already jeopardizing more than 5,000 jobs in the state," said U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. "We're already reneging on a federal government commitment to the state of South Carolina." He added, "It gives me tremendous heartburn."
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told The Post and Courier he would not be voting for the $1.1 trillion federal spending package Wednesday because the provision was not included.
With the entire South Carolina congressional delegation working to secure the extension, it wasn't immediately clear why the effort was not successful. Scott said members were told leaders did not want to include tax policies in the spending bill but that this particular issue would have a home in whatever bill Congress passes to overhaul the nation's tax code.
But while rewriting tax law is a priority for President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans, there's no guarantee lawmakers will be able to advance such a bill, nor is there any clear timeline for consideration.
Other S.C. members were scratching their heads this week about what had transpired that a seemingly non-controversial provision had fallen to the wayside.
"It doesn't add up," said Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, of Mount Pleasant and the coastal 1st Congressional District.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the delegation's lone Democrat and the third most senior member of his party's leadership in the House, suggested his Republican colleagues bear responsibility for not winning the argument.
"My side's in," Clyburn said. "Republicans can't get it done. You'll have to ask them."
Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rice of Myrtle Beach and a member of the House Ways and Means Committee was the point person for getting the nuclear production tax credit extension included in the spending bill. He echoed Scott's belief that the issue will be dealt with as part of the tax reform effort.
He and Scott have also introduced a standalone bill to extend the tax credit, which Rice said could even be voted on by itself.
Storms and ports
The tax credit extension is not the only thing missing from the spending bill when it comes to South Carolina wants and needs.
In late April, Gov. Henry McMaster signed onto a letter with the chief executives of four other states asking Congress to make available a total of nearly $8 billion in Community Development Block Grants to assist in natural disaster recovery, to be distributed among the states according to need.
McMaster said South Carolina in particular needed an estimated $220 million to address damage following 2015 storms and last year's Hurricane Matthew.
In the final bill, $400 million was appropriated, meaning each state will have to fight for a large slice of a very small pie relative to what they had requested.
There is also some question over whether the State Ports Authority had lost an opportunity to get mentioned in the bill as a priority for federal investments as the Charleston Harbor continues its dredging project.
Sanford said he had advocated for the project and put in a call directly to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, until recently a South Carolina GOP congressman.
The measure includes money for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, but nothing mentions the Port of Charleston specifically. However, Ports Authority spokeswoman Erin Dhand said the harbor project would apply for one of six water infrastructure "construction starts" authorized in the spending bill.
"We are optimistic to receive federal construction dollars to allow for the timely deepening of our harbor to facilitate imports and exports riding on the big ships calling the East Coast starting in this month," Dhand said.
As Congress prepares to vote on a $1.1 trillion federal spending package later this week, leaders in both chambers and parties are praising the deal and crowing over the legislative victories each side scored after fraught negotiations.
Duncan calls it 'crap'
U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan didn't mince words in his response to the bipartisan deal, calling the spending bill "crap."
In a Facebook posting this week, the conservative Republican from the South Carolina Upstate lambasted a GOP he said is failing to assert itself by insisting on funding President Donald Trump's border wall and opposing abortion.
"When Republicans (moderates) hide from the shadow of a government shutdown and fail to stand firm, when we have House, Senate and the White House, to defund the murder and dismemberment of babies in the womb, fund border security and defund cities which are in direct violation of Federal Immigration laws, well we get crap like this latest ... government funding 'Deal,'" Duncan wrote.
"I don't support it," he added.