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 eliminate $325,000 provided in the bill for the Institute for Seafood Studies project at Nichols State University in Louisiana. 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 noted in his statement in support of the amendment that this was “only one of a thousand earmarks in this bill”, but that “we never seem to be offsetting this spending anywhere else . . . .” He went on to say “we are going to approve an earmark . . . to create an institute to study seafood. And I would venture a guess that we'll be back here next year with another earmark for that same program because now that we have an institute created by the Federal Government through an earmark, then who is going to sustain it but the Federal Government with another earmark and earmarks in perpetuity?” He argued “when you look at the earmarks funded in this legislation, you see the same spoils system that we see elsewhere.” Rep. Flake went on to reiterate a point he had been making throughout the consideration of H.R. 2847 that the House leadership and Appropriations Committee senior members were getting a disproportionate share of the funds in the earmarks.
Rep. Melancon (D-LA) opposed the amendment. He began his statement in opposition by characterizing himself as a “Blue Dog Democrat”, who appreciates “the importance of fiscal responsibility; and getting our fiscal house in order is the best way to come out of this recession quickly . . . .” Melancon went on to say: “(P)art of fiscal responsibility is the need for legislators to prioritize spending on projects that improve our constituents' safety, health and their livelihood. This institute will be working toward developing standards and guidelines for seafood safety as well as methods to advance sustainable fishing practices. In fact, this project dovetails nicely with the work being done . . . regarding the food safety bill and the issues that confront us. The rash of food-related illnesses and the deaths in the past few years highlight the vulnerability of our country and what we face from unsafe food sources and imports.”
Melancon also defended the funding of the Institute on the basis that: “(T)he seafood industry . . . in many parts of the country, not just Louisiana is a conglomerate of many small, single-owner businesses.” Rep. Flake responded to that point by arguing “that it's important that we think of the little guys here. The last time I checked, we have an $11 trillion debt. That amounts to about $36,000 per American, per person; for a family of four, obviously it's much bigger than that. It's time we start looking out for them.” Flake concluded by asking rhetorically “if we can't stop creating new institutes to study seafood or anything else, then where are we going to cut? Where is the fiscal responsibility that we keep hearing about that's being employed? I just can't see it here.”
The vote was 124-303. One hundred and sixteen Republicans and eight Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and forty-four Democrats and fifty-nine Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, the House rejected the amendment and the funding for the Institute for Seafood Studies at Nichols State University was preserved in the appropriation.