This was a vote on am amendment offered by Rep. Flake (R-AZ) to H.R. 3081, the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funding for the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Small Business Administration, the federal courts and many other federal government operations. The amendment would have eliminated a $200,000 earmark in H.R. 3081 for the Commercial Driver Training Institute project of Arkansas State University. An earmark is a project that benefits only a specific constituency or geographic area, and which is inserted into a spending bill by an individual Member. A number of Republicans, of whom Rep. Flake was the most active, had been consistent critics of earmarks, and had been offering a series of amendments to remove them from spending bills.
Rep. Flake began his remarks in support of his amendment by saying he was “all for driver safety . . . .” He then went on to say he was “not sure why the federal government is funding this particular driving program. Nor do I understand why this institute is receiving another earmark, having received nearly a quarter of a million dollars in earmark funds in the omnibus bill that we passed just a few short months ago. In fact, it appears that this institute was established and built in part with taxpayer dollars, federal taxpayer dollars, thanks to a nearly $350,000 earmark it received in the fiscal year 2008 transportation spending bill . . .there are dozens . . . of commercial driving training schools all over the country. None of them have received this kind of federal largesse. Why do we continue to fund institutes like this? Aren't some of the others just as deserving? Or is it just because we have Members in a position to do it?”
Rep. Flake then repeated an argument that he had been making during the consideration of a series of spending bills and noted that: “(S)ixty percent of the earmarks in this bill are going to just 24 percent of the body. That represents appropriators, chairmen, ranking minority members, so-called powerful Members . . . this is a trend that we've seen throughout the appropriation bills this year, a small number of Members get a big chunk of the cash.”
Rep. Berry, (D-AR), who was responsible for having the earmark inserted in the spending bill, first argued that the Constitution provides for members of Congress to direct how federal funds are spent. He then said that the truck driving course that the funds will support trains workers for good jobs in an area that had experienced difficult economic times.
The amendment was defeated by a vote of 115-314. One hundred and nine Republicans and six Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and forty-nine Democrats and sixty-five Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, the earmark for the Commercial Driver Training Institute project of Arkansas State University remained in H.R. 3170.