This vote was on an amendment that would have barred federal grants from providing more than half of the funding needed for projects to expand broadband internet service in rural areas.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) offered the amendment during consideration of a bill that authorizes federal programs that assist farmers and low-income Americans. Sen. DeMint’s amendment would have affected a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant program aimed at expanding access to broadband internet in rural areas. Under Sen. DeMint’s amendment, broadband internet projects could not get more than half of the funding necessary for construction from the USDA.
Sen. DeMint argued that his amendment would prevent rural communities from constructing broadband internet infrastructure without contributing their fair share.
“Please keep in mind that these are not direct loans, these are grants that require no payback. It is important that recipients have some skin in the game so that they make good decisions,” Sen. DeMint said. “I encourage my colleagues to support this moment of fiscal sanity here.”
Opponents of Sen. DeMint’s amendment argued that it would hamstring the USDA in some cases where the agency might otherwise be able to help a community gain high-speed internet access.
“(Sen. DeMint’s amendment) basically goes to the question of whether we are going to allow investment in rural communities – the hardest-hit communities, the farthest apart communities – and whether they will have access to broadband,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said. “It really goes to small businesses, in small towns and villages, and whether they are going to have access to sell their products to consumers around the globe.”
Sen. DeMint’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 44-55. Voting “yea” were 43 Republicans and 1 Democrat. Voting “nay” were 52 Democrats and 3 Republicans. As a result, the Senate defeated the effort to bar federal grants from providing more than half of the funding needed to develop broadband internet projects in rural areas.