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Tom Cole, Appropriations Chair

Culture Wars Part 2?

In the talks between Speaker Mike Johnson and GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Thomas Massie (Ky.) and Paul Gosar (Ariz.), the hardline conservatives have sought to cut off funding for Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigations into former President Donald Trump.

Johnson told reporters that it’s something “we’re looking very intently at,” while Trump signaled he likes the idea on Tuesday night.

And brand new House Appropriations Committee Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.) has already declared that nonprofits won’t be eligible for earmarks, a move Democrats say is aimed toward barring funding for LBGTQ-related projects and programs. Cole took over the Appropriations panel last month from the retiring Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas).

Which led us to wonder if House Republicans will use the FY2025 spending bills to advance the same culture war provisions as they did last year. These were aimed at diversity, abortion, climate change, transgender and LBGTQ funding, among other issues.

Will this happen again on the FY2025 spending bills — unclear.

“I don’t know. We’re going to let the committee work its will,” Cole told us in an interview earlier this week. Cole said he has yet to have this discussion with his subcommittee chairs — aka “the cardinals” — or party leaders.

Asked whether his move to cut off earmarks for nonprofits was intended to mollify conservatives, Cole downplayed the controversy.

“There’s almost 1,000 of those projects. It’s a lot easier to vet what a state government is doing,” Cole asserted of his ban on earmarks for nonprofits.

The culture war provisions were strongly opposed by Democrats, the Senate and the White House. But Johnson and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy let it happen in order to mollify the House Freedom Caucus and GOP hardliners. That helped derail the appropriations process in the House. And few of those provisions made it into the final bills passed by Congress this year.

Cole acknowledged that the FY2025 spending bills will be drafted at the spending level agreed to in the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which will upset conservatives. McCarthy — again under pressure from the right — wanted to spend $100 billion less even after he cut a deal with President Joe Biden. That didn’t happen as the Senate and the White House refused to go along.

For their part, Democrats are strongly opposed to any repeat of last year’s ideological clashes over the spending bills.

“My hope is that we will not go down that path again,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, in a statement.

House Appropriations cardinals also believe that some of these culture war fights can be avoided this year.

“I’m sure some of them will make it, but I hope the majority of them won’t,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who chairs the Interior subcommittee. “If they’re put on there, they will be put on with the knowledge they’ll be taken off.”

“The difference is we have a different chairman. Tom Cole will run things a little differently,” added Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), who chairs the Transportation-HUD subcommittee. “There will be a push to do a lot of that.”

Cole hopes to start marking up bills in subcommittees by late May or early June. He’d like to move all 12 bills out of committee by the August recess. Cole was set to meet with House Majority Leader Steve Scalise this week to talk about the floor schedule.

Yet Cole and all the appropriators know they won’t finish the process by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. A continuing resolution will be passed before then so lawmakers can go home for the elections. The goal is to finish off everything in a lame-duck session.

— John Bresnahan

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