This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) that would have prohibited federal funds from being used for the construction of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas (which was intended for the study of diseases which pose a threat to U.S. animal agriculture and public health). This amendment was offered to a continuing resolution funding the federal government through September 2011, and cutting $61 billion in federal funding for many government programs.
In order to pay for the construction of NBAF, the Homeland Security Department proposed to sell the Plum Island Animal Disease Research Center—which performed similar research to NBAF, and was located in Bishop’s congressional district (and thus employed many of his constituents).
Bishop urged support for his amendment: “NBAF, in my view, is a government boondoggle that anyone concerned about fiscally responsible behavior should want to be stopped….The Department of Homeland Security has consistently stated that the sale of Plum Island in my district would cover the cost of NBAF. This is not even remotely accurate. Any reasonable estimate of the cost of Plum Island will be no better than $80 million. Why should the American taxpayer invest $1 billion in this project…that is essentially redundant? Now my friends from Kansas--and I certainly understand their interest--have criticized this amendment as constituting parochial politics. And I would say, with respect to my friends, that I don't see anything parochial about trying to shield the American taxpayer from an investment of $1 billion in a facility that we do not need.”
Some Democrats and environmental groups opposed the sale because they believed relocating the facility to Kansas risked releasing contaminants that were dangerous to human health. Rep. David Price (D-NC) argued: “ I've had a longstanding concern about the decision to relocate the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility to the mainland without a comprehensive and validated strategy to prevent the release of harmful pathogens into the community.”
Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) opposed the amendment: “NBAF will be a cutting-edge research facility, and it will accelerate our nation's ability to protect ourselves, our food supply, and our economy from biological threats. It will become the world's premiere animal health research facility and further solidify our nation's place as the international leader in animal health research…. Simply put, this debate should be about our national security, not parochial politics. In this age of uncertainty and global threats, conducting vital research to protect our nation could not be more crucial, and the truth of the matter is we are dangerously under-protected from the threat of a biological attack against our people and food….We need to protect our food and our families from danger. We need to stay on the cutting edge of this research field. Our security is at risk, and delaying this project further because the gentleman from New York would prefer to preserve a stunningly outdated lab that just happens to be in his district is not an option.”
The House rejected this amendment by a vote of 156-269. Voting “yea” were 143 Democrats—including a majority of progressives--and 13 Republicans. 224 Republicans and 45 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the House rejected an amendment that would have prohibited funds provided by a continuing resolution from being used for the construction of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas.