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Dear Mr. Biden: What’s bigger than hell or high water? Port funding hits White House wall

Above is the key question for Vice President Joe Biden as he raises money for Michelle Nunn in Atlanta today.

Last year, on a trip to Savannah, the vice president made a promise about federal funding for the $600 million-plus deepening of the Port of Savannah – which Republicans and Democrats, including Nunn, have identified as the top economic priority in the state.

Here’s what he said:

"We are going to get this done, as my grandfather would say, come hell or high water.”

Well, something more powerful than hell or high water has apparently come up. President Barack Obama’s proposed federal budget, released today, slams the brakes on federal funding for the Port. It includes $1 million and change for further study. A pittance.

A reason why Obama's budget is even more important in this election cycle: Legislative earmarks are banned in the House and supporting a workaround could be dangerous territory for the three House members running for Senate, notably Savannah's Jack Kingston.

Statements from U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson are forthcoming. Interestingly, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed – a champion of the Port dredging who traveled to the Panama Canal with Biden last year – is not with Biden today, his office said.

Update 2:43 p.m.: Here's what Chambliss and Isakson had to say in a joint statement:

“We are deeply disappointed and frustrated to see the promises to help advance the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project made by President Obama and Vice President Biden were not fulfilled in today’s budget release. It is baffling to see this administration choose to ignore a statute passed just six weeks ago that cleared all remaining obstructions to moving forward with the project. The administration has once again chosen to ignore existing law, and in this case needlessly hamstring the advancement of SHEP. 

 “This administration has promised to deliver economic development and economic opportunity to the state of Georgia through the authorization and funding of SHEP. During a visit to the port last year, Vice President Biden promised that “We are going to get this done, come hell or high water,” and the president himself included SHEP in his 2012 “We Can’t Wait” initiative. It is now clear they would rather pay lip-service to Georgians than deliver on their promises. With clear opportunity in front of them and congressional direction to guide them, the decision to delay SHEP’s construction was solely the administration’s. This project would support hundreds of thousands of jobs each year while generating billions in revenue. The Obama administration had the opportunity to fulfill their campaign promises of economic and job growth, and chose not to.

 “Having wasted this opportunity and broken their promises to the state, we call on the administration to allow this project to move forward and to get out of the way of the people of Georgia. We are tired of waiting.”

Gov. Nathan Deal's office said he intended to move forward on the dredging regardless:

“Vice President Biden promised in the past year that we’d get this project done come ‘hell or high water,’ but it’s more accurate to say the administration is going to put us through the former to get to the latter,” Deal said. “Earlier this year, President Obama signed into law — a law this budget recommendation ignores — a provision that allows Georgia to use the $266 million it has set aside to get the work started. That’s exactly what I intend to do. The state of Georgia and its congressional delegation have worked diligently and patiently to see this project through to fruition. We’ve dotted every ‘I’ and crossed every ‘T,’ we’ve received every federal permit required and we’ve already waited too long. Under the federal law recently passed, we will begin dredging using state funds until the federal government lives up to its obligations in this partnership. The Obama administration has noted repeatedly the importance of projects such as this for economic development and job creation, and the state of Georgia, as always, stands ready to do its part.”

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