This was a vote on an 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 $100,000 earmark for the expansion of the Myrtle Beach International Trade and Conference Center in Myrtle, Beach, South Carolina. 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.
During his remarks regarding the amendment, Rep. Flake acknowledged that he was frustrated because the Republicans “were in the majority for the first 6 years (and) . . . We could have cut (spending) but we didn't. And now we have appropriators now in the minority party blaming the appropriators in the majority party for doing what we should have done a few years ago.” He also repeated an argument that he had been making, during the consideration of a series of spending bills, that earmarks are disproportionately given to powerful House Members, calling it “the spoils system”. Flake used as evidence of this argument the fact that “70 percent of the dollar value of (all) earmarks go to just 24 percent of the House . . . .”
Regarding this particular earmark, Flake noted that the center in Myrtle Beach already draws a large number of civic and public events, having hosted over 500 different groups in 2008, has had a reported annual economic impact of more than $55 million, and was the site of the 2008 South Carolina GOP presidential candidates debate. He then asked, rhetorically, “(W)hy in the world are we spending another $100,000, when we have nearly a $2 trillion deficit, for a . . . convention and conference center? There are convention and conference centers all over the country. There are many in my home State of Arizona. Why we should choose one and say they're worthy of an earmark and the other one isn't, and saying that they shouldn't compete for dollars . . . ?”
Rep. Emerson (R-MO), the Ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee subcommittee that developed H.R. 3081, opposed the amendment. She noted that the “funding recommendations included in this bill were made in full compliance with the applicable rules and procedures of the House, and the Small Business Administration was given an opportunity to vet this project, and provided the committee with no negative feedback regarding the project or the grantee.”
Rep. Brown (R-SC) was responsible for having the earmark inserted in the spending bill. He began his statement in opposition to the amendment by saying that “the economy of Myrtle Beach is suffering . . . The tourism industry is the number one industry in the Myrtle Beach region, and the lifeblood of the surrounding area. The Myrtle Beach International Trade and Conference Center is an important part of that industry, with local economy impact . . . However, it has reached capacity, limiting its ability to attract major conventions. In light of this, the community has embarked upon a multiyear effort to expand the Center, funded through a mix of local and other dollars.”
Brown argued: (N)ot only will improvements to the Center assist in attracting national conventions to Myrtle Beach, which will result in more good-paying jobs for the region, but it also serves as the emergency command center for the city of Myrtle Beach in the event of a hurricane or other types of national disasters, which is why this project has received past support from the Department of Homeland Security.”
The amendment was defeated by a vote of 99-332. Eight-eight Republicans and eleven Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and forty-seven Democrats and eighty-five Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, the earmark for the International Trade and Conference Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina remained H.R. 3170.