As a lengthy battle over reopening the federal government and extending the debt ceiling came to an end Wednesday night, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's Republican enemies seized on a provision included in the final deal they said was a betrayal of conservative causes.
The deal contained a $2.8 billion authorization for the Olmstead lock and dam project in Western Kentucky that at first glance appeared to many as McConnell sneaking pork into the last-minute bill. While McConnell was the target, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander said he asked for its inclusion.
An authorization does not mean the money will be ultimately approved or spent.
The House and Senate would have to vote in the future to appropriate the money.
McConnell has long been a supporter of the Olmstead project, but his Senate office said that the Senate Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development has "stated publicly that this was their request."
Questions about McConnell's involvement were referred to U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairwoman and ranking member of the subcommittee.
Still, at least two conservative groups, Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Senate Conservatives Fund, put the blame on McConnell.
The Senate Conservatives Fund called the provision a "Kentucky kickback."
"Mitch McConnell is trying to blame others for this abuse, but everyone knows he negotiated this deal, and everyone knows he wrote the bill," said Matt Hoskins, the group's executive director. "If he didn't want the earmark included, he could have kept it out."