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Cole tweaks earmark guidelines to curb political headaches

April 25, 2024   Politico

House Appropriations Committee Chair Tom Cole is out with revamped guidance for lawmakers looking to request earmarks for the upcoming fiscal year, including a change that limits members' ability to request hundreds of millions of dollars for social services back home.


The guidance bars non-profits from receiving money through the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Economic Development Initiative grant program, a shift Democrats will surely oppose. It's aimed at minimizing political headaches that could complicate Republican support for future government funding bills.


Cole's directive continues to ban earmarks under the Financial Services and Labor-HHS-Education funding bills, a major change that took effect under the previous chair, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas).


Key context: The government funding package approved by Congress last month included more than $3 billion in earmarked funding for the HUD grant program, about a quarter of which flowed to non-profits.


Before Cole was recently tapped by Republicans to serve as committee chair, he oversaw the Transportation-HUD spending bill, grappling with a fair share of partisan drama over funding that would have flowed to LGBTQ+ organizations. During an Appropriations markup last summer, Democrats accused House Republicans of behaving like “terrorists,” as they worked to strip millions of dollars that lawmakers had already secured for projects in their districts.


“Some of these are unobjectionable, some of them create political problems for people,” Cole recently told reporters. “That’s just the reality of it. I shouldn’t have to have a political problem in my district because I voted for a bill that had your earmark in it.”

Senate reality check: The Senate has its own earmark process, and nothing bars Democrats in the upper chamber from inserting money for projects that House Republicans will ultimately find objectionable. And, like the Labor-HHS-Education funding bills this year, it could mean senators get a leg up on spending back home.


“Historically, the Senate and the House have done their own thing,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who oversees the Transportation-HUD panel, in a recent interview.


“And I don’t see any reason to break from that tradition. Chairman Cole does a very effective job of managing the process, and if that's what's necessary to enact appropriations bills from the House standpoint, I don’t begrudge him that,” Schatz said. “But I don't anticipate that it's necessary for the House and Senate to have the exact same earmark process.”