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Cole tweaks earmark guidelines to curb GOP political headaches

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House Appropriations Chair Tom Cole has some revamped guidance on earmarks that Democrats won’t like.

The new chair is barring nonprofits from receiving money through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Economic Development Initiative grant program, hoping to minimize some political headaches that popped up in the last months-long fight over funding the government.

That last spending package included more than $3 billion in earmarked funding for the HUD grant program, about a quarter of which flowed to nonprofits. Cole, who oversaw that subcommittee at the time, grappled with a fair share of partisan drama over funding that would have flowed to LGBTQ+ organizations — fighting he seems eager to avoid the next time around.

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.”

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).

Of course, Cole’s guidance has no effect on the Senate earmarks process, and right now 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.”

Ben Leonard contributed to this report.