This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Flake (R-AZ), which would have eliminated $1,000,000, earmarked for research and education activities at the University of Georgia Agriculture Energy Innovation Center from the bill providing fiscal 2010 year funding for the Department of Agriculture, rural development, and the Food and Drug Administration and related agencies. 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. 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 a consistent critic of earmarks in spending bills. He based part of his argument against this particular earmark by noting that a great deal of money had been provided in other bills to do research and education in the area of agriculture and energy. He then said it was “folly in a bill like this, just to be able to direct money for a Member to say, all right, the university in my district is going to get this research money. They won't have to compete for it on merit. They won't have to compete for it because I'm going to earmark it, and they are going to get it when maybe a university elsewhere . . . might want to compete for that project but they can't because the money is earmarked and it goes specifically to this university.”
Flake asked, rhetorically, “why, if you have such a deserving, respectable program like this, why do we need to earmark these dollars at all? Surely they can compete for it and do well. But why do we circumvent the process of competition simply because we are on the committee or we are a powerful chairman or a ranking minority member or somebody who can get this funding and earmark it so that nobody else can compete for it? That simply doesn't make sense.”
Flake then returned to an argument he had been making during the consideration of a number of spending bills and noted that a disproportionate number of earmarks have been for members of the Appropriations Committee or of the House leadership. He argued “that is not because there is more merit in those programs. It is because we have powerful Members in those positions (and) . . . we are circumventing that process of competition and awarding by earmark through the political process.”
Rep. Kingston (R-GA), who was responsible for having the earmark inserted in the bill, said the funds were to be directed to “a program that works on future food production and technology by decreasing the cost of production and looking at ways to have some fuel independence.” Kingston then dealt with what he called Rep. Flake’s problem with “the process of directing (the money) to the University of Georgia.” Kingston noted “that the University of Georgia is a land grant university with one of the oldest agricultural colleges in the country. And they do compete for competitive grants on a regular basis, and they do get competitive grants. When they have put skin in the game, Congress has, in fact, not just for the University of Georgia, but for a lot of universities, put some matching money in it.”
Kingston went on to say that, “in this case, the money is really not matching as the college itself has already put in about $5 million. And they have been working on this over the years, but they have gotten $500,000 from private foundations in 2010, and (in) 2011 they will get $800,000 from private foundations. And then they have State money, and then they have university money in it. So it is not something where the $1 million is a new start-up for a program that is not out there.”
The amendment was defeated by a vote of 103-328. Ninety-four Republicans and nine Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and forty-five Democrats and eight-three Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, the $1,000,000 earmarked for the University of Georgia Agriculture Energy Innovation Center remained in H.R. 2997.