This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Flake (R-AZ), which would have deleted $500,000, earmarked for additional turn lanes, signals and a sidewalk on Rib Mountain Drive near Wausau Wisconsin, from the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funding for the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Transportation. Rep. Flake had been a constant critic of “earmarks”, or legislatively mandated projects such as this one, that were inserted at the request of individual Members into funding bills. He repeated arguments he had been making against many earmarks in a series of spending bills. He first asked, rhetorically, “why are we paying for a roadway that doesn't serve an interstate purpose . . . it's a parochial interest.”
Flake then argued “that the State of Wisconsin has a program where they grant funding for programs like this . . . on a priority basis. Apparently, the State of Wisconsin didn't see this as a priority or they would have funded it, or perhaps they did, but in realizing there was a powerful Member here in Congress, felt they didn't have to because the federal taxpayer could pick up the tab.” The “powerful Member” to whom he was referring was Appropriations Committee Chairman Obey (D-WI).
Flake then returned to the claim he had been making during the debate on a number of spending bills that there is a “pattern” whereby Members of the House leadership and of the Appropriations Committee received what he called the “spoils” of earmarks. Flake supported that claim by noting that between 46% and 70% earmarked funds in all the recent spending bills had gone to districts represented by these Members, who constitute only 24% of the House.
He concluded his arguments by saying “we should stand up and say that we cannot sustain this level of spending . . . it's not just a Democrat thing or a Republican thing. This body, as a whole, is guilty of it (and) earmarks are a large part of that . . . .”
Chairman Obey responded by first noting that his state, Wisconsin, receives far fewer federal dollars compared to what its taxpayers contribute than almost any other state. He then referenced the billions of federal dollars that Rep. Flake’s state, Arizona, had received for the Central Arizona Project that facilitated dramatic growth in Arizona, and said Arizona now “begrudges somebody else trying to get pennies by comparison.”
Obey acknowledged that Rib Mountain Drive was not near the Interstate Highway System, but then asked, rhetorically, “why on Earth should we confine federal responsibility only to communities lucky enough to be on Interstate roads? Why should we tell small rural towns, ‘Sorry. Go off in the corner. You don't have a right to participate in Federal support.’'' He said “we are trying to help the community of Rib Mountain . . . fix some problems on that heavily traveled and congested commercial corridor . . . .” Obey added that the unemployment rate in the Wausau area was 12%.
Obey concluded his response by claiming that earmarks “make up less than 1 percent of the discretionary part of the Federal budget . . . I don't know where (Rep. Flake) was when the previous (Bush) administration was turning $6 trillion in projected surpluses into a $1 trillion deficit.”
The amendment was defeated on a vote of 105-329. One hundred and one Republicans and four Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and fifty-five Democrats and seventy-four Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, the $500,000 earmarked for Rib Mountain Drive in Wisconsin remained in the bill providing the 2010 fiscal year funding for the HUD and the Department of Transportation.