Despite his reputation as a tea party conservative, Huelskamp voted for an appropriations measure that includes $404 million for construction of a lab in his home district.
In an interview, Huelskamp said he is supporting the lab as an important national security need, not because it benefits his district. The Kansas lab is needed to replace an aging facility on Plum Island, N.Y., and will help protect the United States against potentially costly livestock illnesses such as foot-and-mouth disease. He said fellow lawmakers will need to prove their cases for spending in their districts this way in order to win his support for spending.
“That’s the kind of argument I expect my colleagues to make,” Huelskamp said.
Huelskamp had very little to do with securing the lab for Kansas. The search for a replacement to the Plum Island facility began in the mid-2000s, and it took prodding by the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations to get the project even as far as an official January 2013 handoff of land for the new facility.
Huelskamp’s active support this year comes after he voted in 2012 against a fiscal 2013 Homeland Security spending bill that included $75 million for the new lab, a vote that reverberated around the state.
The Wichita Eagle’s website last year ran a blog post titled “Huelskamp Off to Bad Start on NBAF” and quoted the lawmaker saying he had rejected the spending bill on the passage vote only because it included “$5 billion in unpaid-for disaster funding.” The blog reported that the president of the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce told a local publication that Huelskamp is “going to have to demonstrate leadership on the issue.”
On Wednesday, Huelskamp voted for the fiscal 2014 Homeland Security bill, and he fought an amendment that sought to strip the funding for the Kansas lab.
The House easily turned back, 80-345, the bid by Bishop to strip away the funding. David E. Price of North Carolina, the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, told Bishop on Wednesday night that he opposed the amendment, saying recent studies had addressed many of the pending concerns about the site. The Obama administration appears fully committed to this choice, having requested $714 million for the lab in fiscal 2014.
“The longer we wait, the more costly its construction will be and the more costly it will be to continue to maintain the Plum Island facility,” Price said.
Bishop argues that the cost estimate for the Kansas lab has reached $1 billion and says there are cheaper ways to address the scientific and security needs. He said he was surprised that only 11 Republicans voted for his amendment.