This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Flake (R-AZ) 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 would have eliminated one million dollars provided in the bill for the Drew University Environmental Science Initiative in New Jersey. 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. Flake began his statement in support of the amendment by saying that, although he had “nothing against environmental science . . . I do have a problem with handing out these kinds of earmarks to private universities.” He then noted that Drew University is not only private, but “it also has a reported endowment of more than $268 million. In addition, the university was recently awarded a (foundation) grant of $950,000 . . . for the establishment of the new Environmental Studies and Sustainability major at the school.” He then said “it's curious, in light of this grant that Drew University should receive a $1 million earmark for what the (amendment) sponsor said is the development of new environmental studies courses for the construction and improvement of science laboratories.”
Rep. Flake went on to argue that such grants should not be given “to private universities that have demonstrated their ability to secure generous grants from prestigious foundations” and asked rhetorically “(W)hy do the Federal taxpayers have to provide funding as well?” He went on to say that, in this case, it was because “Drew University has the benefit of relationships with influential Members of Congress . . . (through) a bit of a spoil system . . . .” Flake also claimed: “(P)owerful Members of Congress, appropriators, leadership, and committee chairs and ranking members are taking home . . . 45 percent of the total dollars earmarked. Yet I would remind my colleagues again that this subset of Members comprises only 25 percent of this legislative body.”
Rep. Frelinghuysen, a Republican Member from New Jersey who had promoted the funding, opposed the amendment. He first said that he believed “we do need to rein in excessive government spending and promote fiscal discipline, and I've been heavily involved in that.” He went on to say the Drew University Environmental Science Initiative “fits perfectly in line with (the) goal of advancing science education” and that: “(O)ne of the ways you meet the challenges of China and India with regard to their educational systems is to make sure that there are colleges and universities that are doing what they can to graduate students who are heavily involved in math and science studies.” Frelinghuysen concluded by saying “I think the investments we're making in science, math, technology, and engineering in New Jersey and colleges and universities across the country is money well spent.”
Rep. Flake responded: “(I)f we can't say that we are not going to give a million dollar grant to a private university that just received a million dollar grant . . . for an almost identical purpose . . . while we have a public debt of about $11 trillion and a deficit this year of $2 trillion, if we can't decide that we are not going to give a million dollar earmark in this manner, where are we going to cut? When are we going to say enough is enough? We're spending too much.”
The vote was 100-318. Ninety-two Republicans and eight Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and thirty-eight Democrats and eighty Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, the House rejected the amendment and the funding for the Drew University Environmental Science Initiative was preserved in the appropriation.