This was a vote on passage of a bill to establish a program to control and prevent harmful algal bloom and hypoxia. Death and decay of algal blooms deplete oxygen in the water. This process has proven to be deadly for freshwater and marine mammals, and hazardous to human health. The bill would authorize $41 million per year to be spent on the program for the next four years.
Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) argued that the bill "represents a timely and necessary step to address a large and growing problem…[that] affects virtually every coastal waterway in America as well as freshwater ecosystems. Let me share with you an example of how serious this problem is. In a small lake in my own district recently, a person was out with their dog, playing fetch in the water. They threw their favorite tennis ball in the water. The dog jumped into the water, retrieved the tennis ball, swam back up on the shore, and promptly died….I mentioned already the tragic loss of this animal, but on a human scale, red tides pose a serious neurotoxin that can actually affect your ability to remember things over the long run. So we have a serious problem. It is growing in the case of harmful algal blooms."
Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) contended the bill would preserve jobs in her district, where tourism is a thriving industry: "This is a jobs bill because, let me tell you, coming from the great State of Florida, the Sunshine State, we depend on folks from all across the country coming to vacation in Florida, to swim and to fish….But there is a real threat to our tourism economy and jobs in the State of Florida, like there is in other parts of the country, and it's these very harmful algal blooms that cause red tide. In a State that employs over 1 million Floridians and where tourism has a $65 billion impact on our State's economy, when the red tide rolls in, it's a serious threat, because what the red tide does is it causes you difficulty breathing. It burns your eyes. Dead fish will roll up on the beaches. It's really bad news."
Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) expressed concerns that the bill was too costly: "Given this era of fiscal constraint, we must be mindful of how we spend taxpayers' dollars. This bill authorizes funding that is almost three times the amount that has been appropriated in recent years. The authorization levels are 50 percent higher than the last reauthorization in 2004. The federal government did not spend more than $15 million per year when the authorization level was at $26 million per year, so it's hard for me to support raising the level to $41 million per year in 2011….While I support the overarching goals of research into these issues and the development of technologies and procedures to lessen their harmful consequences, I remain concerned that this bill is too expensive and does not protect against unfunded mandates."
The motion to suspend the rules failed, even though a majority voted in favor of the bill by a vote of 263-142. While a majority of members voted in favor of passing the bill, a motion to suspend the rules requires a two-thirds majority vote. 231 Democrats and 32 Republicans voted "yea." 135 Republicans and 7 Democrats voted "nay." Since two-thirds of the members present and voting did not support the motion to suspend the rules, the measure failed. This does not, however, prevent the Democratic leadership from bringing the bill up under a rule requiring only a simple majority vote for passage at a later date.