WASHINGTON — Gov. Mark Sanford might not have known he was in the wrestling ring, but House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn just delivered an emphatic throw-down.
Taking advantage of his increased legislative muscle — thanks to expanded Democratic control and a new president who shares his views — Clyburn moved to blunt Sanford's ability to prevent South Carolina from getting its share of federal stimulus funds.
Just before the House passed President Barack Obama's $819 billion economic-stimulus bill Wednesday evening, Clyburn quietly inserted an amendment empowering state legislative leaders to accept the special federal aid if the governor fails to act within 45 days of the measure's enactment.
A General Assembly wouldn't be required -- merely "a statement submitted by its leadership," according to Clyburn's amendment.
S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell said Thursday the $480 million in the stimulus plan to repair the state's roads, bridges and other infrastructure is needed, but they expressed concerns about other aid.
The stimulus measure would deliver at least $3.2 billion to South Carolina, but it faces hurdles in the Senate and could undergo significant changes.
DeMint to lead opposition
U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint said Thursday he will help lead Senate opposition to the stimulus plan -- and hopes to stir the kind of national outcry he galvanized in summer 2007 to defeat immigration reforms.
Separate Clyburn provisions increase stimulus funding to the nation's poorest counties and boost aid to historically black colleges and universities.
Clyburn's imprint on the economic-recovery package -- and his ability to deliver on long-standing commitments to the rural poor -- show how his post as the No. 3 House leader has bolstered his clout with a larger Democratic majority and election of the first black president.
Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat, said he became alarmed about Sanford's potential blocking of the state's stimulus money after learning of Sanford's confrontation with Obama last month in Philadelphia at a meeting the then-president-elect had with the nation's governors.
"I happen to know that ... a lot of constituents of mine need this kind of assistance," Clyburn said Thursday. "Some of the counties that I represent -- Marion County, Williamsburg County -- that have been in double-digit unemployment since I came to Congress, they are being hit even harder now during an economic recession."
Sanford, who is chairman of the Republican Governors Association, wrote Obama a follow-up letter detailing his opposition to using more federal deficit spending to revive the economy.
Sanford and Texas Gov. Rick Perry expressed their objections to a major stimulus package -- which would follow a $700 billion bailout of banks and investment firms -- in a column in the Wall Street Journal.
Joel Sawyer, a Sanford spokesman, said Thursday the governor shouldn't be cut out of the decision-making process.
"We think the chief executive of every state should be involved" in deciding whether and how the federal money is spent, Sawyer said.
"Our objection continues to be that none of what is contemplated in the bailout is being paid for with real money," he said.
Clyburn made it clear his provision was aimed squarely at Sanford.
"Our governor has repeatedly expressed political and philosophical aversion to using federal assistance as we work our way out of the economic conditions that are visiting significant difficulties upon businesses and families throughout our beloved state," Clyburn said after the House vote.
"The leadership of the South Carolina General Assembly sees it differently, and I have worked with them to ensure that South Carolinians receive the benefits of these investments," Clyburn said.
Harrell and McConnell said Thursday they think the South Carolina share of stimulus money for road, bridge and other infrastructure repairs - about $480 million - is badly needed.
"This state would be foolish to refuse that," McConnell said.
But the two Republican legislative leaders expressed concerns that the stimulus aid would expand state programs, with federal funds drying up in subsequent years.
McConnell and Harrell also question using a federal infusion of $905 million in the stimulus bill to eliminate the state government deficit.
"The speaker has some concerns about using one-time money for recurring state budget costs, but on the matter of infrastructure needs - yes, the speaker, if need be, would request South Carolina's share of the stimulus money," said Greg Foster, a Harrell spokesman.
S.C. Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a Jasper Democrat, said the state has been forced to cut critical medical, hospice-care and home-health services for seniors and children.
"This (stimulus) money is really a godsend," Pinckney said. "I am extremely grateful that Congressman Clyburn thought of our area."
Clyburn crafted a separate clause in the 647-page stimulus bill, requiring that at least 10 percent of all rural-development funds go to the poorest counties -- those in which one-fifth or more of the residents have lived at or below the federal poverty level for at least 30 years.
Twelve counties in South Carolina -- all along the I-95 corridor -- meet Clyburn's standard: Allendale, Hampton, Jasper, Colleton, Bamberg, Orangeburg, Clarendon, Lee, Williamsburg, Marion, Dillon and Marlboro.
A third Clyburn provision in the House stimulus measure boosts funding for historical-preservation projects at historically black colleges and universities, and removes a local-match requirement, as long as the work has begun or is ready to start.