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House GOP mulls putting ‘woke’ earmarks on chopping block

Spending bill for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education departments may be stripped of local projects

Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., is among those who've had earmarked projects called out by GOP.
Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., is among those who've had earmarked projects called out by GOP. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House GOP appropriators are gearing up to potentially bar local projects entirely from the largest domestic spending bill for fiscal 2024, along with others deemed “woke” by critics of earmarks funded in the December omnibus package.

On the chopping block potentially are all earmarks in the Labor-HHS-Education bill, as well as the smaller Financial Services measure, according to sources familiar with the discussions. House Republican appropriators are preparing to roll out their earmarking guidance as soon as this week.

The rationale for such a move wasn’t entirely clear, but sources attributed it at least in part to concern over earmarks funded in the fiscal 2023 spending package. They include several LGBTQ and transgender services-related projects targeted by Republicans and conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation.

Aides to House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, weren’t immediately available for comment.

Republicans are also looking under the cushions for potential domestic spending cuts to try to meet a pledge to cut more than $130 billion from current levels when they write their fiscal 2024 bills. There were $15.3 billion worth of earmarks in the fiscal 2023 omnibus, a CQ Roll Call tally found, with the Labor-HHS-Education portion responsible for nearly $2.7 billion of that total.

Earlier this month, House Budget Chairman Jodey C. Arrington of Texas and other panel Republicans released a list of potential spending cuts for negotiators to consider when discussing a debt limit increase. The cuts list included a reference to “Stop Woke-Waste,” specifically naming the following projects:

  • $1.2 million for LGBTQIA+ Pride Centers in the San Diego Community College District, obtained by Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., and included in the Education Department section of the Labor-HHS-Education title.
  • $1 million for Zora’s House, a nonprofit in Columbus, Ohio, that bills itself as a “coworking and community space built by and for women and gender expansive people of color.” Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, took credit for the project, which was funded within Small Business Administration accounts in the Financial Services section of the omnibus.
  • $3.6 million for the Michelle Obama Trail project in DeKalb County, Ga., backed by Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., in the Transportation-HUD part of the massive spending bill.
  • $750,000 for the TransLatin@ Coalition in Los Angeles to “provide transgender, gender nonconforming and intersexed (TGI) individuals in LA the services they need to enter, participate in, and complete broader workforce development programs,” according to a release from the earmark’s sponsor, Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif. The project is being funded by the Labor Department.

Democratic aides hadn’t heard of the possible GOP plan and weren’t ready to comment.

The Transportation-HUD measure was the largest source of fiscal 2023 earmarks, with 2,389 projects worth nearly $5.6 billion.

It wasn’t immediately clear why House Republicans weren’t prepping to bar “THUD” earmarks, but they are enormously popular on both sides of the aisle. And many also have a connection to federal infrastructure, which House Republicans have said they’ll continue to support, while others such as museum grants may get the ax.

Financial Services earmarks are comparatively slimmer, with 246 in the fiscal 2023 package, totaling $230 million.

House GOP appropriators were also mulling getting rid of Defense bill earmarks as they look to cut any “waste” they can find at the Pentagon without threatening the bulk of the military budget. But Defense bill earmarks are already few and far between, totaling just $16 million in the fiscal 2023 package, and the Senate Appropriations Committee already disallows earmarks in that chamber’s version of the bill.

The Senate panel released its guidelines for earmarking in fiscal 2024 spending bills earlier this month; they were little changed from the prior year.

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