Congress brought back earmarks. Now they’re one more point of drama in a divided House.
A top House Republican said she plans to “tweak” how the chamber earmarks spending for community projects — infuriating Democrats. (Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)
WASHINGTON — The new Republican chairwoman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee said just before taking over the panel that she planned to “tweak” how the chamber earmarks spending for community projects — coveted state and local funding that members of Congress request.
Some of those changes hinted at by Kay Granger of Texas have infuriated Democrats, who argue the House GOP has politicized a relatively bipartisan process renewed in 2021 after a decade-long hiatus, and unfairly tipped the scales by revoking funding for three LGBTQ projects.
House Republicans disagree, saying they’ve kept the same majority-minority split for earmark funding that Democrats came up with and got rid of projects that they deemed unworthy of taxpayer dollars.
The disagreement has led to several bouts of heated debate during House Appropriations Committee markups, especially after Republicans opted to eliminate funding for three LGBTQ projects in the transportation and housing bill after the GOP included them in the original legislation. It’s one more stress point in a tumultuous year for federal spending, as a split among House Republicans raises the potential for a partial government shutdown at the end of September.
“The fact that you would take away members’ earmarks simply because they refer to the LGBTQI+ community is insane, is bigoted,” Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan said in mid-July.
Dems complain they’re shortchanged
About a month before tensions flared over the LGBTQ project funding, several Democratic appropriators rebuked House Republicans for allegedly shortchanging their earmark requests.
Maryland Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger said during committee debate on the Agriculture spending bill in June that he was frustrated no Democratic projects in that measure received more than $1 million in funding — while more than 100 GOP earmarks received at least $1 million.
“This is ridiculous,” Ruppersberger said. “This isn’t governing, this is partisan politics.”
Democrats did receive more than $1 million on several projects in other spending bills that had accounts eligible for earmark requests.
Rep. David Trone, also a Maryland Democrat, said many of the earmarks he requested were supposed to help out Republican areas of his sprawling district that stretches from the western part of the state to the D.C. suburbs, but that insufficient funding for those projects meant they likely wouldn’t be able to move forward.
Democratic earmark requests, he said, were cut an average of 41%, with a ceiling of $1 million, while Republican earmark request cuts averaged around 18% with a $6 million cap.
That is not how House Democrats handled earmarks during the last two appropriations cycles when they were in the majority, Trone said.
“This partisanship, that’s what ticks me off and why I think we just are going down the wrong route,” Trone said. “We’ve got to figure out how to make life better for the folks that really need it, the folks that are struggling. And in my case, they’re all Republicans and I’m trying to make it better for them. And we failed here.”
Splitting up funds
House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro said Republicans’ approach to earmarks this year was unacceptable.
“The split is inequitable … based on the fairness and the direction in which we went for two years in this process,” DeLauro said.
After DeLauro brought back earmarks two years ago with new transparency mechanisms and oversight guardrails, she said she worked with Republicans to figure out how much earmark funding would go to Democrats and how much would go to Republicans.
After Democrats submitted two-thirds of total earmark requests, with Republicans requesting the other one-third, DeLauro said she took into consideration that many House GOP lawmakers didn’t want to participate.
In “conjunction” with Republicans, DeLauro determined that Democrats would receive about 63% of the earmark funding while Republicans received about 37%, DeLauro said.
After Republicans regained control of the House earlier this year, DeLauro said she made two proposals on how to split up earmark funding. The first was to split the difference between Democratic and Republican projects, which was rejected. The second was a 56-44 split, which was also rejected.
Maryland Republican Rep. Andy Harris attempted to throw cold water on Democrats’ criticism that his party was shortchanging Democrats’ earmark requests.
Harris argued Republicans had simply taken the same percentage of earmarks funding that Democrats had used when they were in the majority.
“Last year in the majority, the Democrats received $97 million in community funding projects. This year we allocated $145 million,” Harris said, referring solely to earmarked funding in the Agriculture spending bill. “Now, even by common core math, that’s $48 million more in projects available.”
LGBTQ projects survive in Senate
At least two of the LGBTQ projects that House Republicans stripped from their spending bill for the Transportation Department and Housing and Urban Development were included in the Senate.
Massachusetts Democratic Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren secured $850,000 for LGBTQ Senior Housing, Inc. in the Labor-HHS-Education bill after the House GOP removed Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s earmark from a separate spending bill. All three requested funding for the project at the beginning of the process.
“While Republicans continue their hateful, anti-gay crusade, we remain undeterred in our fight to affirm the dignity and humanity of our LGBTQ+ neighbors,” Pressley said in a written statement.
“I’m grateful to Senators Warren and Markey for working in partnership with me to get this critical funding for The Pryde into the Senate appropriations bill,” Pressley added, referring to the name of the project. “Our LGBTQ+ elders in the Massachusetts 7th deserve this affordable housing and community space, and we’ll keep fighting to get this funding over the finish line.”
Pennsylvania Democratic Sens. Bob Casey Jr. and John Fetterman were able to get $1 million for Philadelphia’s William Way LGBT Community Center’s renovation and expansion project in the Senate spending bill. They both requested that level of funding at the beginning of the process.
Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle had requested and received a $1.8 million earmark in the House bill for that project, before Republicans in that chamber reversed course.
Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Chrissy Houlahan’s earmark for a $970,000 transitional housing program at the LGBT Center of Greater Reading didn’t appear to get funding in the Senate appropriations bills. That might be because neither of Pennsylvania’s senators included that in their original embark requests to the spending committee.
DeLauro and several other Democrats rebuked Republicans for removing the three projects from the Transportation-HUD spending measure, arguing that they didn’t violate any of the requirements for earmarks.
“They are only struck because they support projects for the LGBT community. That is a disgrace. In all the two years that I dealt, and this committee dealt, with community projects, never once, never once did we challenge any Republican project,” DeLauro said. “We said you do what you want to do and we do what we want to. And that has been destroyed today.”
Montana Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke and Harris both argued during committee debate that the types of services the community projects provided should not have received government funding.
“Should America’s taxpayers pay for this? The answer is ‘No,’” Zinke said after listing off the events and services that the William Way LGBT Community Center offers.
House members’ earmark requests for the upcoming fiscal year can be found here. The earmarks included in the House Appropriations Committee’s bills can be found here. Senators’ earmark requests and the Senate Appropriations Committee’s earmarks can be found here.
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