This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Kingston (R-GA) to the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funding for the Department of Agriculture, rural development, and the Food and Drug Administration and related agencies. The amendment would have prohibited any money in the bill designated for the broadband loan and loan guarantee programs being used before September 15, 2010. The amount of funding for rural broadband programs in H.R. 2997, was approximately $400 million, which had been the same amount allotted for this purpose in recent years. An additional two and a half billion dollars for the Department of Agriculture broadband grant and loan programs had been included in the massive economic stimulus package that passed earlier in the session.
Rep. Kingston began his statement in support of his amendment by noting the large previous increase in the category of broadband funding in the economic stimulus bill, and commenting that is was like “winning the lottery.” He suggested that the $400 million allotted to broadband in this funding bill was therefore not needed. Kingston said the purpose of his amendment was to prevent the Department of Agriculture from using any of this new $400 million until it had spent the $2.5 billion allotted in the stimulus package.
Kingston argued that “when the stimulus bill was passed, there was so much talk about we are going to use this money immediately, shovel-ready projects, jobs will be created. And as we know, that was when the unemployment level was 8 percent and now it is nearly 10 percent. It has not stopped the bleed and job loss. But the fact is that $2.5 billion is still sitting there, and yet we are coming along now and giving another $400 million . . . this amendment says is we can't use the $400 million until the $2.5 billion is paid down.” Kingston concluded that “all I am saying to the oftentimes gluttonous government here in Washington, D.C., is, don't go back through the buffet line until you have consumed what you've got.”
Rep. DeLauro (D-CT), the chair of the Appropriations Committee subcommittee that developed H.R. 2997, opposed the amendment. She argued that prohibiting funds from being used in the manner proposed by the amendment “would gut this critical program at a time when we need to redouble our efforts in this area . . . (It would) stop critical oversight and monitoring of existing borrowers, functions that the government cannot afford to lose, especially if we are to ensure that taxpayers' dollars are well spent.
DeLauro then argued: “(N)o one can deny the need to expand (broadband) access. The United States is currently 15th in the world in providing broadband service. Only 38 percent of those living in rural America now have broadband at home, compared to 55 percent of all adult Americans. In rural communities, 24 percent of dial-up users said broadband wasn't available where they lived, more than 7 times those in cities. This is not a partisan issue. There is unanimous support for increased broadband service to rural communities.”
DeLauro then cited a statement by The National Farm Bureau that “the (funds) allocated for broadband (in the stimulus package) will help rural communities participate in a recovering economy, while modernizing rural education and health care. It creates an economic opportunity for rural Americans, (and) allows farmers and ranchers to take advantage of the technology to help them remain profitable and competitive.” She concluded by saying: “We need to do everything we can right now to promote rather than stifle economic innovation in small towns.”
The amendment was defeated by a vote of 140-292. One hundred and thirty-eight Republicans and two Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and fifty-three Democrats and thirty-nine Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, no restrictions were placed on when the broadband funds in H.R. 2997 could be spent.