Former Fiscal Conservative Mike Johnson Considering Scheme to Expand Earmarks

Mike Johnson
Annabelle Gordon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) is considering granting free-spending establishment Republicans and Democrats one of the top items on their wish list.

Johnson, after delivering crushing defeats to conservatives on government funding, warrantless spying on Americans, and Ukraine aid, is reportedly setting his sights on expanding earmarks.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), Johnson’s handpicked choice to take over the House Appropriations Committee after Rep. Kay Granger’s (R-TX) resignation in March, wants to “unlock the possibility of more earmarks,” Politico reports.

The outlet says Cole wants to expand the use of earmarks, specifically in the massive Labor-HHS-Education funding bill — the largest non-defense funding bill — a move that could unlock hundreds of millions in earmarks. The House did not allow earmarks in the funding bill in 2023.

Cole, in making clear his opinion, said Johnson would be the decider. “Whatever the speaker comes back with is what I’ll be supporting,” Cole said.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) (MATT ROURKE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Of course, with Cole being Johnson’s own pick to chair the powerful appropriations committee, it defies reason that Johnson would appoint Cole without knowing his feelings on earmarks — if Johnson is, in fact, running the show. It seems unlikely Johnson would appoint Cole if the two were not simpatico on Cole’s first major initiative after being gifted the gavel.

Johnson’s move also comes during widespread speculation regarding promises he may have made to Democrats to keep him safe if he brought Ukraine funding to the floor.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-GA) threat to oust Johnson over his betrayal of his conservative ranks — the bloc from which Johnson rose to the speakership — has been gaining steam. But with Johnson handing President Joe Biden and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) victory after election year victory, Democrats are publicly promising to save Johnson’s speakership.

And why not? With Johnson running the show, Democrats are getting all the spoils of the majority without any of the responsibility.

Johnson made history by using Democrats to pass a procedural rule to bring Ukraine aid to the floor. More Democrats supported that rule than Republicans, meaning Democrats, despite being in the minority, set the agenda of the House floor.

House Republicans banned the practice of earmarking in 2011 after the Republican Tea Party takeover. The practice had long become associated with wasteful pork barrel spending, most exemplified by Alaska’s “bridge to nowhere.”

However, in March 2021, House Republicans voted 102-84 on a resolution from Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) to resurrect the practice.

Granger (and many other appropriators) is one of the 25 establishment intransigents who contributed to the current chaos in the House when he blocked Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the conference’s choice to replace deposed Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), on the floor of the House in October 2023.

RELATED — Kevin McCarthy: Jim Jordan No Longer Nominee for Speaker of the House After Vote


Earmark advocates insist the process allows Members of Congress, who supposedly know their district’s needs best, to make decisions on specific projects the federal government can funnel taxpayer dollars toward inside their districts.

But even many earmark advocates acknowledged the system had been abused.

In practice, earmarks give leadership a powerful tool to coerce skeptical lawmakers to endorse massive multi-trillion dollar spending packages. Lawmakers are incentivized to look the other way and disregard the fiscal responsibility planks of their campaign platforms when their districts get a cut of the loot.

The Appropriations Committee has little time to craft each of the twelve funding bills for the next fiscal year, which begins October 1. Congress did not finish the current fiscal year’s bill until late March, almost six months past the original deadline.

Bradley Jaye is a Capitol Hill Correspondent for Breitbart News. Follow him on X/Twitter at @BradleyAJaye.

Editor’s note: This updated piece has corrected details about Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), removing a description of him being involved in blocking Jordan for Speaker since he did vote for Jordan on the House floor. 


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