This vote was on an amendment by Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that would prohibit funds from going toward certain member pet projects (known as "earmarks"). Coburn is a frequent critic of the practice of members setting aside funds for specific projects in their districts. The amendment was offered to the bill that funds most domestic agencies in fiscal 2009.
Specifically, Coburn's amendment would target 11 member projects, including a stadium conservancy in Michigan, a Polynesian "voyaging" society in Hawaii, manure odor management research in Iowa, an historic trail interpretive center in Nevada, and other such items.
In turn, lawmakers from the affected states took to the Senate floor to defend their earmarks as important and even vital projects for their regions. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said if Coburn bothered to listen to them, they would discover "that what may appear frivolous based on a three word description is actually relevant to the programs under which the funding is provided, and relevant to improving the lives of our constituents."
Coburn said he doesn't necessarily have a problem with these earmarks specifically, but is seeking to eliminate them because he believes they represent misplaced priorities.
"The problem is, is it a priority now, when every penny you will use, whether it is the new school program you want me to cosign or the earmarks you have in the bill today, is going to be borrowed from your grandchildren," Coburn said. "The very schools you are going to build in Iowa, that we are not going to build in the rest of the country, by leveraging Federal dollars are going to be charged to the kids of the kids who are there. They are going to pay for it. It is not about whether it is right or wrong; it is about whether it is a priority, whether we ought to be doing it now."
By a vote of 34-61, the amendment was rejected. Of Republicans present, 29 voted for the amendment and 10 voted against it. All but five Democrats present voted against the amendment. The end result is that an amendment that would have eliminated funding for 11 earmarks was defeated.