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Schumer thwarts bid to defund St. Lawrence Seaway

WASHINGTON – The federal agency that operates the St. Lawrence Seaway suffered through a near-death experience this week, as a Republican senator proposed an amendment stripping the agency of all its funding only to reverse course Thursday after Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., made clear he would block the measure.

Rep. Mike Lee of Utah, one of the most conservative members of the Senate, introduced the measure stripping the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. of its $36 million in funding for the 2017 fiscal year, which is included in a bill setting aside funding for transportation projects and housing.

“Canada, which also borders the seaway, privatized its section in 1998, eliminating any future taxpayer funding for its maintenance and operation activities,” Lee’s office said in a memo justifying the amendment. “Privatization of this kind in the U.S. would encourage productivity and competitiveness and reduce the burden on taxpayers. Congress should follow Canada’s example and privatize the (seaway agency) – a reform that is long overdue.”

The trouble is, Lee’s measure would have stopped funding the government-run seaway corporation without creating a private-sector replacement, leaving no one to operate the locks in the American section of the seaway.

In other words, it would have shut down shipping on the seaway, which connects the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean.

For that reason, Schumer vowed to block the amendment from being added to the transportation/housing spending bill on the Senate floor. Under Senate rules, any senator can block any such measure from consideration.

“Defunding the St. Lawrence Seaway would threaten local jobs, revenue and the ability to operate our waters and maintain our maritime infrastructure, so I am making it crystal clear to my colleagues in the Senate that the (seaway corporation) is here to stay, and I will work to make sure that any attempt to eliminate it is dead-on-arrival in the Senate,” Schumer said.

Asked for comment on Schumer’s statement, a spokesman in Lee’s office said: “There will not be a vote on this amendment.” The spokesman did not respond, though, to a further inquiry as to why Lee had abandoned the amendment.

Lee’s move to kill the seaway corporation echoes a proposal from the conservative Heritage Foundation – literally.

The memo Lee’s office sent out in support of his amendment was taken word for word from “The Budget Book: 106 Ways to Reduce the Size & Scope of Government,” which can be found on the Heritage Foundation’s website.