ATLANTA – Funding for the continued deepening of the Savannah River’s ship channel is likely, U.S. Sen. David Perdue said Monday.

He also said he believes the Senate shouldn’t consider a nominee to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court until after the election.

Georgia’s junior senator made his remarks in response to questions from reporters who caught up with him during his visit to the state Capitol. He was there to greet legislators and offer should they need assistance from Washington.

State officials say that deepening the river by 7 feet is critical to keep Savannah competitive with surrounding ports that can already accommodate the bigger freighters that will use a widened Panama Canal. The state has put aside Georgia’s whole share of the $700-million project, but the federal government is appropriating its portion a year at a time.

President Barack Obama recommended $42.7 million for Congress to include in the next year’s spending plan after including $29.7 million in the current year’s budget.

But Gov. Nathan Deal has said that anything less than $90 million next year would result in work falling behind schedule.

Perdue was more confident Monday.

“I think people in Washington understand what an economic engine this is, the port, and why it is so necessary right now. I’m very hopeful,” said Perdue, a Republican like Deal.

He said the budgeted amount can be raised even though rules prohibit “earmarks” that used to simplify spending additions requested by individual senators. It’s possible, he said, because the project is already in the budget, so his colleagues just need to change its priority.

Perdue said he and Sen. Johnny Isakson, another Republican and the state’s senior U.S. senator, “are working feverously right now” to assure adequate funding winds up in the version of the budget Congress passes.

Yet, he’s not eager for the Senate to confirm a new justice for the Supreme Court anytime soon. Instead, he said that should wait until after the November election of a president and one-third of the Senate.

“We really need to let this be a referendum,” he said. “The people of the country need to speak.”

There’s no guarantee that election will turn out like he and other Republicans are hoping,

though. For one thing, Republicans have more Senate seats to defend this year than Democrats do, meaning the balance of control could tip him into the minority. For another thing, he admits there’s no assurance a Republican will win the presidency either.

“You can’t assume anything in this game,” he said.

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