This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Roe (R-TN), which would have reduced the funds appropriated in H.R. 2847 to the federal Bureau of Prisons by $97.4 million. This was the figure by which the amount provided in H.R. 2847 for the Bureau of Prisons exceeded the amount President Obama had requested. H.R. 2847 provided fiscal year 2010 funding for the Departments of Justice and Commerce and for federal science and other programs.
Rep. Roe argued that “the (overall) level of spending in this bill is irresponsible in light of our deficits . . . (and) passing this level of debt on to our next generation is immoral. So far, there has been not one iota of interest in setting priorities from the majority. Instead, they've chosen to fund everything generously and call that priority setting. That's their prerogative. They won the election, and they are entitled to run our nation's credit card well past its limit to never-before-seen levels. . . When it comes to spending in budgets, it is clear from debates that there is no interest in adopting Republican ideas by my friends on the other side of the aisle, so I went to a source you might not think a Republican would look at: President Obama's budget.”
Roe also claimed that the impact of the reduction proposed in his amendment “will not be huge, but it sends a message, however small, that this Congress is not completely tone deaf to the concerns about the deficit of runaway spending . . . We should show some fiscal restraint here in the House as an example to the people around this country, families and cities and municipalities and States, that are working hard to balance their budget.”
Rep. Mollohan (D-WV), who was managing H.R. 2847 for the Democrats, argued that the reduction would have “a huge impact on the Bureau of Prisons. He argued that: “There is not an agency in this bill that is in greater need of additional salaries and expenses . . . The amount of the increase was not pulled out of thin air. It was precisely calculated based on an in-depth analysis by the Appropriation Committee's surveys and investigations staff to be the minimum amount necessary to restore the Bureau of Prison's base budget, which has been progressively hollowed out in recent years by inadequate budget requests. Without this $97.4 million, the Bureau of Prisons will be unable to hire additional correctional officers, which it desperately needs, and will likely be unable to activate two newly constructed prisons . . . the Bureau of Prisons prisoner population is currently 37 percent above the rated capacity . . . and the prisoner-to-staff ratio is appalling . . . .”
Mollohan argued further than “( N)ot only does inadequate investment in Federal prisons result in unsafe working conditions for prison staff, as we have seen from attacks and even fatalities in our prison system, it also makes it impossible to do the kind of reentry programming necessary to reduce recidivism. The result is more crime in our communities and a higher long-term cost to the taxpayer of future incarceration.”
The amendment was defeated on a vote of 140-283. One hundred and twenty-five Republicans and fifteen Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and thirty-four Democrats and forty-nine Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, the fiscal year 2010 funding in H.R. 2847 for the Bureau of Prisons was not reduced.