This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Hensarling (R-TX), which would have ended federal funding for the Legal Services Corporation by eliminating the $440 million allocated to it in H.R. 2847. The Corporation provides free non-criminal legal assistance to individuals who cannot afford an attorney. H.R. 2847 provided fiscal year 2010 funding for the Departments of Justice and Commerce and for federal science and other programs.
Hensarling began his argument in favor of the amendment by claiming that: “The Democrats are in a program to spend more money than we have seen in the history of this institution . . . .” He then went on to cite President Obama’s recent statement: “Without significant change to steer away from an ever-expanding deficit and debt, we are on an unsustainable course”, as providing support for his amendment. Hensarling added, “when we're looking at a federal government that consists of roughly 10,000 Federal programs spread across 600 agencies, at a time when American families are suffering . . . maybe we ought to take a look at a few and see if we can't sunset them so we can provide sunshine and morning to the budgets of the American family. I believe the Legal Services Corporation is one such program.”
He claimed that the Corporation “has a history of waste, of fraud, (and) abuse”, and cited a recent General Accountability Office report that said there was insufficient documentation to support the expenditures of the Corporation. Hensarling concluded that: “We can use $440 million to save our children from this explosion of national debt . . . (or) we could subsidize people so they could turn around and (use the Legal Services Corporation to) sue their neighbors.”
Rep. Mollohan (D-WV), who was managing H.R. 2847 for the Democrats and opposed the amendment, said “we all have a concern about the national debt (but) . . . This amendment would attempt to effect . . . a reduction of it on the backs of those who are the absolutely least able to afford it . . . .” He argued that the current difficult economic conditions require the activities of the Legal Services Corporation “more than ever”. Mollohan also noted that, after the recent economic downturn, fifty-one million Americans were eligible for free legal assistance. He added: “At the same time, non-Federal funding sources for legal aid are declining as state budget deficits and pressures on private charitable organizations have reduced legal aid contributions by outside entities.”
The amendment was defeated on a vote of 105-323. One hundred and four Republicans and one Democrat voted “aye”. Two hundred and fifty-two Democrats and seventy-one Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, the money for the Legal Services Corporation remained in the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funding for the Departments of Commerce and Justice.