This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Flake (R-AZ), which would have eliminated $638,000, earmarked for a project being undertaken at the Environmental Management Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. The project focused on the use of bi-products of a process in which certain types of sand are used to form molds for metal castings. An earmark is a project that benefits only a specific constituency or geographic area, which is inserted into a spending bill by an individual Member. The funding for this project was included in the bill providing fiscal 2010 year funding for the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and related agencies.
A number of Republicans had been consistent critics of earmarks, and had been offering a series of amendments to remove them from spending bills. Rep. Flake had been the leading opponent of earmarks. He noted that the committee report accompanying this spending bill said that the research project that would be funded with the $638,000 was finished. He then asked “why are we earmarking funds seemingly for a project that has already been completed?”
Rep. DeLauro (D-CT), the chair of the Appropriations Committee subcommittee that developed H.R. 2997, responded to Flake by saying: “(T)here is considerable need for ongoing funding to study the beneficial uses of other industrial byproducts in agriculture. We need to allow these funds to be flexible as opposed to being directed at one specific material . . . we cannot always be aware in advance of potential new beneficial uses of various industrially and agriculturally derived materials.” She added: “(F)inding these new uses not only would benefit American agricultural producers, it assists the American public and the environment by avoiding increasingly expensive options of sending these materials to a landfill.”
Flake then presented an argument he had made on other spending bills - - that earmarks in spending bills were not equally distributed among Members. He said “67 percent of the dollar value (of earmarks) are going to either appropriators or powerful Members, either chairmen or ranking minority members of committees . . . It is a spoils system.” Flake concluded his remarks by arguing: “(W)e should set parameters. We should tell the Federal agencies, Here is how you should distribute the money, instead of saying, All right, I'm a powerful member of the Appropriations Committee or of leadership and I'm going to direct that money to my district.”
Rep. DeLauro responded by claiming “we have been very open. There has been a great deal of scrutiny that has gone into this process this year. There have been new requirements that (Appropriations Committee) Chairman Obey put into practice to continue our efforts to ensure that the appropriations process is open, that it is transparent, and that it is worthy of the public's trust. In terms of vetting each request with the agency under whose jurisdiction the earmark would fall, there has been public disclosure on Members' Web sites, and the committee made earmark lists available after the subcommittee consideration on the bill . . . .”
The amendment was defeated by a vote of 115-319. One hundred and twelve Republicans and three Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and fifty-four Democrats and sixty-five Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, the $638,000 earmarked for the project at the Environmental Management Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland remained in H.R. 2997.