This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Flake (R-AZ) that would have eliminated $500,000 in funding for researching the potential of generating ethanol from agricultural products at The Arkansas State University Biosciences Institute from the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funds for energy and water development. 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, 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 funding bills. This was one of those amendments.
Flake had not only been opposing including earmarks in funding bills, but had also been arguing that those earmarks go disproportionately to powerful House Members. Flake noted that, 58 percent of the earmarked dollars in H.R. 3183 went to the districts of only 24 percent of all House Members. He referred to the situation as “a spoils system” and complained that “a small number of people in this body control too many of the dollars . . . .”
He also opposed including this $500,000 because the government was already spending a lot of money on ethanol. He noted that the $420 billion had been spent on ethanol research and . . . 30 years later, we are still subsidizing at about $28 billion annually . . . At some point, you have to question are we doing the right thing here with our dollars. When we are already spending $28 billion annually, does it make sense to throw in another $500,000 to Arkansas State University? Are they going to discover something that $28 billion annually for about 30 years has not discovered?” Flake also repeated an argument he had been making against many earmarks that they spent additional money unnecessarily at the same time “we have a deficit nearing $2 trillion.”
Rep. Berry (D-AR), the Member responsible for having the earmark inserted in the funding bill, opposed the amendment. He said that the United States had succeeded economically and led the work in technology because of research, and that reducing it now would be “the most foolish thing we could possibly do in this country.” Berry stated that the particular research that this earmark would fund is studying how to take straw left after a harvest and “convert it to 270 gallons of ethanol.” He said the research will also study how to do the same thing with other crops and “make it work for the American people and reduce our need for foreign oil.” Berry added that the Biosciences Institute, which would do the research, was created and funded by the state of Arkansas, which has made “tremendous investments” in it.
The amendment was defeated by a vote of 102-318. Ninety-five Republicans and seven Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and forty-three Democrats and seventy-five Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, the earmark for ethanol research at Arkansas State University remained in the energy and water development funding bill.