House defeats bid to nix funding for Commerce agency

The House on Wednesday defeated a proposal backed by the Club for Growth that would defund the Economic Development Administration.

Rejected 129-280, Rep. Mike Pompeo's (R-Kan.) amendment to the 2015 Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill would block federal dollars from going toward the agency, which provides grants to economically distressed local communities across the United States. The Kansas Republican's proposal would save the federal government $247.5 million in fiscal 2015.

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A majority of Republicans voted in favor of the amendment despite its defeat. While 129 Republicans voted for the proposal, 93 voted against it.

The Club for Growth said the agency, which is housed within the Commerce Department, amounted to "corporate welfare" that picked "winners and losers in the private sector." The influential conservative group said it would include votes on the amendment in its legislative scorecard.

"The free market, not the government, should be in charge of picking winners and losers in the private sector. A better alternative to the EDA is to cut tax rates on individuals and businesses while at the same time eliminating special interest carve outs and regulations, thereby promoting economic growth without growing the government," Andy Roth, the Club for Growth's vice president of government affairs, said in a statement.

Pompeo said the measure would prevent the executive branch from using the EDA to funnel money toward pet projects. 

"The current administration and, to be frank, many administrations, have used this for their own pork barrel projects and their own cookie jar," Pompeo said.

But Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science subcommittee, said the EDA provided an economic "lifeline" in some communities.

"It does not support any projects in my district, but it does support projects in some very, very poor districts throughout the United States. These are areas that are struggling. Because of that, sometimes EDA is only a lifeline, a path, to more economic sustainability," Wolf said.

Rep. Chaka Fattah (Pa.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science subcommittee, argued that the EDA's grants help boost the American economy as many jobs are outsourced overseas. 

"If we can spend American taxpayers' money in far off places in this world building economies under the notion that that is how you strengthen democracies and provide peaceful places in the world, then we can take American taxpayers' money and invest it in communities right here at home so that Americans can go to work," Fattah said.