This was a vote on am amendment offered by Rep.Lowey (D-NY) to the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funds for the State Department and its foreign operations. The amendment made a number of changes to spending categories, the largest of which increased international safe water and sanitation programs by $25 million,to this $44.8 billion bill. The safe water program and other increases were offset by reductions to the Department of State Capital Investment Fund and USAID's Capital Investment Fund. The amendment also restricted foreign military financing to Sri Lanka, but included up to $1 million for Sri Lanken demining activities to help the Sri Lankan Government return the Tamil population displaced by the recent war to their homes.
Rep. Lowey chairs the Appropriations Committee subcommittee that developed H.R. 3081. It is not unusual for the chair of the committee or subcommittee that developed a bill to offer an amendment such as this one, that makes a number of changes to a bill, when the measure reaches the House floor. That type of amendment is often non-controversial.
The Republican minority had been consistently objecting to the fact that the Democratic majority had imposed limitations on the number of amendments that could be offered to appropriation bills, including the one for the State Department. The minority used the offering of the Lowey Amendment as another opportunity to express its opposition to that limitation.
Rep. Kirk (R-IL), a member of the Appropriations Committee subcommittee that developed H.R. 3081, first said that there “are many parts of the amendment that I support, like moving funds away from accounts that received a significant increase in the (recently passed large economic) stimulus bill . . . Unfortunately, I oppose this amendment for what it represents. We are continuing the movement away from bipartisan consideration of amendments because it appears that the new practice under the Rules Committee, (as here), is to take a number of Democratic amendments and put them in one group under the chairman's aegis so that it looks like we have a balanced list of amendments offered but really a much larger number of Democratic amendments are being considered. This is a very troubling practice that has now entered into the appropriations bills.
‘Once again, I would point out . . . the only amendments that are allowed under our rules on the floor are money amendments that cut or rearrange funds, not policy amendments. That gives awesome power to the committee on both sides to limit debate on this bill. It's very odd that in all the consideration of appropriations bills before, we haven't really made this a standard practice like is happening now.”
Lowey responded by noting that one of the changes made by her amendment was requested by Rep. Granger (R-TX), the Ranking Republican on the subcommittee that developed the bill. Lowey also noted that it “is not a money amendment. It's a policy amendment as well.”
Rep. Kirk then expressed his concern about a specific change made by the amendment “because it cuts off Foreign Military Financing for Sri Lanka. Now the Sri Lankan-elected democratic government was fighting the Tamil Tigers, registered as a terrorist organization by the State Department . . . So we're now sending a signal that a democracy who is fighting a terrorist organization and wins will be cut off in its financing by the United States.”
Lowey answered by noting the section of the amendment that provided “up to $1 million for demining activities . . . for the Sri Lankan Government to help the displaced Tamil population return to their home. . . I think it is essential that the Government of Sri Lanka respond to that challenge and help those people return to their homes. So I know that we will continue to follow this issue to be sure that the policy that is in place adjusts to the actions that the government takes.’
The vote on the amendment was 261-168. Two hundred and fifty-two Democrats and nine Republicans voted “aye”. One Hundred and sixty-five Republicans and three Democrats voted “nay”. As a result, the amendment was adopted and the changes in the Lowey Amendment were made to the bill providing 2010 fiscal year funding for the State Department.