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 $150,000 earmark in H.R. 3081 for the Green Business Incubator project of Montgomery County, Maryland. 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 appropriation bills.
Rep. Flake said in his statement in support of the amendment that there is a department for economic development in thousands of counties, “but we're singling out one here, the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development. We're saying, you don't have to compete with everybody else for any dollars that the Small Business Administration has to send out, because we're going to earmark those dollars, and you're going to get them regardless of the merit of your program. It may be good; it may not be, but it doesn't matter because a powerful Member of Congress can simply say you're going to get that money, and that's what's happening here.” Flake also argued that many private-sector organizations across the country already provide the kind of business incubation services that this earmark would support with public funds.
Flake then repeated an argument that he had been making, during the consideration of a series of appropriation bills, that earmarks are disproportionately given to powerful House Members. Flake claimed that “60 percent of the share of earmarks are associated with appropriators, leadership, committee chairs or ranking minority members, who comprise just 24 percent of this body, and 70 percent of the dollar value is associated with that group.” Flake said that other entities that apply for funding from the Small Business Administration for the same category of funds earmarked for the Montgomery County incubator “won't be able to compete because a particular powerful Member of Congress simply siphoned off the funding so that an organization or institution in his or her district could receive those funds without competing for them. . . . It's basically an acknowledgement that you don't want the organization or institution in your district or elsewhere to compete for the funding, so you are going to ensure that they get it.”
Rep. Van Hollen (D-MD), who was responsible for having the earmark inserted in the spending bill, noted that Montgomery County, Maryland had become one of the nation's centers in the biotech area. He claimed that “(O)ne of the reasons they were able to do that is they pursued a successful strategy of creating incubators.”
Van Hollen also noted that the country was moving toward clean energy technology and energy efficiency, and that: “(T)hese funds would be used by Montgomery County on a competitive basis to provide seed funding for (energy-efficient) startup small businesses, companies that have to meet very rigorous criteria, just as the kind of criteria they used and was applied in the biotech sector. So I think this is an incredible example of strong public-private partnerships. Again, these will be distributed on a very competitive basis.”
Rep. Edwards (D-MD), who was also responsible for having the earmark inserted in the spending bill, argued that the amendment would “prohibit funding for a project that will have a tremendously positive economic impact not only to Montgomery County but to the entire State of Maryland.” She also said project is an example of how local communities “can spark economic growth within a region . . . with small local businesses that are most closely connected to the people and their communities.”
The amendment was defeated by a vote of 114-318. One hundred and eleven Republicans and three Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and fifty-four Democrats and sixty-four Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, the earmark for the Green Business Incubator in Montgomery County, Maryland remained in H.R. 3170.