This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Hensarling (R-TX) to H.R. 2847, the fiscal year 2010 appropriations for the Departments of Commerce and Justice and for federal science and other programs. H.R. 2847 was a multi-billion measure that, among other things, expanded funding for criminal justice programs, and provided for improved scientific research, including programs to study climate change. The amendment sought to eliminate the funds in the bill that specifically provided $200,000 for the Maine Lobster Research and Inshore Trawling Survey. Republican Members offered a series of amendments, of which this was one, to remove small “earmarked” projects from H.R. 2847. An earmark is the provision of funds in a major appropriation bill for a specific project or purpose.
Rep. Hensarling began the statement in support of his amendment by noting that there were approximately 1,100 earmarks in this appropriation bill. He said that, while “all earmarks are not bad . . . I'm not a fan of earmarks, be they congressional or administration. Too often in the earmark process, what we observe, what the American people observe is a triumph of special interest or local interest over the national interest or the public interest. Too often we see the triumph of secrecy over transparency, and all too often for this body the American people believe they see money coming in on one end of Capitol Hill and earmarks coming out of the other. The system is broken. The system must be reformed.”
Hensarling acknowledged that while, “relative to the Federal budget, (this earmark) may be a small portion of the total spending, it is a huge portion of the culture of spending.” He said he had “no doubt that this Maine Lobster Research and Inshore Trawl Survey is very important to the State of Maine (but) . . . I wonder if it is truly a Federal priority . . . And if it's not a national priority, if it's important for the State of Maine, why didn't the State of Maine pay for it? If it's important to these local communities, why don't the local communities pay for it? Why didn't the Chamber of Commerce pay for it? Why don't commercial companies pay for it?”
Hensarling concluded by asking, rhetorically, whether the earmark justifies “borrowing money from the Chinese, sending the bill to our children and grandchildren, and maybe being the first generation in America's history to leave the next generation with a lower standard of living? It's not fair. It's not smart. It's not right.”
Rep. Pingree (D-ME) responded by first noting that the area covered by the Maine lobster industry is very tightly controlled and restricted, that it is a vital industry in Maine and that these funds are part of a “subsidy that the Federal Government--as well as our State government--gives to help make sure that this stays a healthy resource.” She noted that lobster fishermen are small, individual businessmen and that $200,000 “isn't very much to ask for a lot of hardworking people who contribute to our economy.”
Rep. Michaud, another Democrat from Maine arguing against the amendment, claimed that the Survey was a “worthwhile project that helps sustain a vital industry . . . vital to maintaining the jobs and livelihoods of thousands of people. In order to maintain an important part of our economy, we must continue to monitor the resource, in part so that we do not overfish.” He concluded by noting that the lobster industry “contributes an indispensable $1 billion a year to the Maine economy . . . These programs monitor the health and sustainability of the lobster resources and are the foundation of the industry management program. Their continuation is not only essential to the successful preservation of the lobster population, but the preservation of tens of thousands of jobs in the State of Maine.”
Hensarling responded by saying that he was sure that the motives of the Member who inserted the earmark “are good and pure,” but that the earmark “takes $200,000 away from taxpayers in my congressional district in order to benefit people in her congressional district.” He then suggested that the sponsor may not “understand borrowing 46 cents on the dollar, borrowing it from the Chinese in order to send the bill to our children and grandchildren . . . .”
The vote was 115-311. One hundred and eight Republicans and seven Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and forty-six Democrats and sixty-five Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, the House rejected the amendment and the funding for the Maine Lobster Research Inshore Trawling Survey was preserved in the appropriation.