This vote was on an amendment by Jim DeMint, R-S.C., that would deny funds allocated by the underlying bill to a member's pet project – in this case, the Charles Rangel Center for Public Service, to be established at the City College of New York. Rangel is a House member from New York. The amendment was offered to the bill that funds the departments of Labor, Health and Education in fiscal 2008.
DeMint said that his amendment was not intended to target or disparage Rangel, but rather is being used as an example of how members' pet project spending (often called "earmarks") is out of control. But DeMint went on to say that the new center, which has yet to be built, would be duplicative, since the college already has a public policy center named after Gen. Colin Powell. The underlying bill would allocate $2 million for the new center.
"It also creates a library for the personal archives of Congressman Rangel and a well-furnished office for his personal use," DeMint said. " The hard-working people in South Carolina who are paying taxes should not be building a center for Congressman Rangel in New York. If we had plenty of extra money, maybe we could talk about it. But the fact is, we are borrowing this money from future generations to build monuments to ourselves all around the country."
Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said the earmark should be retained because the new center's purpose would be to facilitate more minorities becoming involved in careers in public service. He also suggested that it was the college's decision to name the new center after Rangel.
"We need to do more to bring minority Americans into public service. A center for public service at the City College of New York was set up to do this. It was the City College of New York that decided the name of it. As far as I know, we didn't decide that. We didn't do anything to decide the name of it. In this bill, we have funds for the Howard Baker Center in Tennessee. We have funds for a Robert Dole Center. These are centers set up at universities, and they name them. We do not. They decide to put a name on it," Harkin said.
The Senate rejected DeMint's amendment by a vote of 34-61. All but two Democrats present voted against the amendment (Evan Bayh of Indiana and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin). Of Republicans present, 32 voted for the amendment and 16 voted against it. Thus, the measure went forward with $2 million in funding for the Charles Rangel Center for Public Policy intact.