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HomeU.SHouse G.O.P. Defunds L.G.B.T.Q. Centers by Banning Earmarks for Nonprofits

House G.O.P. Defunds L.G.B.T.Q. Centers by Banning Earmarks for Nonprofits

When Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee moved unilaterally last summer to nix federal funding requested by Democrats for three programs serving the L.G.B.T.Q. community, the normally collegial spending panel erupted in partisan strife.

“They always say there are Democrats, Republicans and appropriators,” said Representative Mark Pocan, Democrat of Wisconsin, who is gay. “And now we have to say there are Democrats, Republicans, appropriators — and, unfortunately, a bigger umbrella called bigots.”

Now House Republicans, facing mounting pressure from conservative groups and hard-line lawmakers in their own ranks to choke off federal funding for L.G.B.T.Q. groups, are trying to avoid another battle with Democrats over the issue by simply barring nonprofit organizations of any kind from receiving federal funding through earmarks.

In an announcement late last month, Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma and the new chairman of the appropriations panel, said the change was an effort to “ensure projects are consistent with the community development goals of the federal program.”

The effect will be to turn off the spigot of federal funds for an array of organizations supported by both Democrats and Republicans, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Because each chamber makes its own rules governing earmarks — which allow individual lawmakers to steer federal money to particular projects or programs in their districts and states — senators will still be able to request them for nonprofits.

But House Democrats are livid about the change, which they said would deprive a wide range of deserving organizations from receiving federal funds. Only weeks after Congress concluded a slog to fund the government this year, the dispute is an early indication that the next set of spending battles is already beginning.

“This is such a mistake,” Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said in an interview, a message she said she had relayed to Speaker Mike Johnson in a recent meeting.

“When you see the projects — what a high caliber of projects they are,” Ms. DeLauro added. “It’s religious organizations, Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, veterans organizations, work force training, senior housing. They are, for some reason, just saying no to this.”

The final spending bill Congress passed for 2024 contained $1 billion in federal earmarks for nonprofits requested by lawmakers in the House alone, for more than 900 different projects, according to a review of the legislation.

It gave substantial injections of funding for small organizations, including $63 million for 53 YMCA or YWCA branches, as well as food banks, emergency shelters for homeless families and families suffering domestic abuse, youth sports complexes, and Boys and Girls Clubs.

The single biggest earmark in the House for a nonprofit organization was secured by Representative Robert B. Aderholt, Republican of Alabama and a senior member of the committee, for $13 million for a STEM training facility at the University of North Alabama.

Mr. Aderholt was among the most vocal Republican opponents of allowing Democrats to request funding for L.G.B.T.Q. centers, and ultimately voted against the spending package — an almost unheard-of move for a veteran of the appropriations panel — because it included such earmarks won by Senate Democrats.

“The Senate has taken liberties with their congressionally directed spending requests that would never stand in the House,” he said in a statement explaining his opposition, using the formal term for earmarks.

Outside groups, including Advancing American Freedom, the political organization run by former Vice President Mike Pence, also chimed in, urging Republicans to block funding requested by Democrats for L.G.B.T.Q. centers.

“Democrats are trying to push a $400K earmark for an organization giving confused thirteen-year olds binding and tucking clothing without parental permission,” the group wrote on social media. “The federal government should NOT be subsidizing trans clothing for MINORS!”

It is the latest chapter in the long-running saga of congressional earmarks. Once seen as tools for consensus-building in Congress, giving lawmakers across the political spectrum a personal interest in cutting deals to fund the government, they fell out of favor beginning in 2005 after a spate of criminal and ethics investigations into earmark abuses.

As the anti-government Tea Party rose to prominence in 2010, earmarks were derided as wasteful and unethical. That year, House leaders banned earmarks to private industry.

House Democrats brought earmarks back in 2021 when they held the majority, ending a decade-long moratorium. G.O.P. leaders left them in place when they took control of the House last year, though many anti-spending Republicans are still ideologically opposed to them.

Still, the G.O.P. refused for months to cut a spending deal with Democrats, forcing Congress to rely repeatedly on short-term patches to keep the government funded and effectively postponing any discussion of earmarks. It was not until early this year, when House Republicans began hammering out a series of spending bills with Senate Democrats and the White House, that lawmakers were able to submit earmark requests, and conservatives began voicing their strong opposition.

The three earmarks requested by House Democrats that were removed at the insistence of Republicans were $970,000 to the L.G.B.T. Center of Greater Reading in Pennsylvania, $850,000 to build 74 new housing units for L.G.B.T.Q. seniors in Massachusetts and $1.8 million for the construction of a new community center for the Gay Community Center of Philadelphia.

It was just one of the ways in which House Republicans have sought to use their majority to put their conservative stamp on federal government policy. Appropriators also loaded their spending bills with an array of policy mandates including anti-abortion measures, a ban on flying Pride flags over buildings run by the Pentagon and the prohibition of federal funds for gender-affirming care.

None were ultimately included in the final spending bills passed into law, but appropriators are already working to insert similar measures into the next series of spending bills that must be passed by the end of September to avoid a government shutdown.

“Let’s not make this what it was in the past,” Ms. DeLauro said. “We have a real opportunity to help to try to make a difference. These are damn good projects. Why do we want to walk away from it?”

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