WASHINGTON — A little-used rule activated by the Republican-controlled House on Monday would allow members to target the budgets of individual federal programs — and even the salaries of certain workers.
The “Holman rule,” named after the Indiana congressman who originated it in 1876, allows individual members of the House to add amendments to an appropriations bill that would cut programs and reduce individual salaries down to — theoretically — $1.
Tom Temin, host of “The Federal Drive,” on Federal News Radio, said the “rarely used” rule “lets amendments come directly to the floor on appropriations bills, and not go through the Appropriations Committee.”
In the coming Congress, he said, the Republican majority “can surgically go in and remove programs they don’t like … things the Trump Administration is philosophically opposed to. This gives them a surgical tool to go in and cut without a lot of debate, without a lot of negotiation.”
Any bill that has Holman Rule cuts in it still has to be passed by the full House, Temin said. And since the Senate doesn’t have a similar rule, as a practical matter, it could complicate the reconciliation process, by which the House and Senate negotiate until their versions of bills are identical, he added.
Of course, since the Republicans have the majority in the House, they have the wind at their backs anyway. But Temin said it eliminates a step in the process. “I can’t say why they feel they need it when they have the majority. But I think it avoids a lot of publicity; it avoids a lot of debate, and doesn’t give the Democrats a chance to make big issues out of things.”
So, should federal workers be worried? Temin said it depends.
“I don’t think individual workers are likely to be targeted; I think if you are in a program that has political controversy around it, you should be worried.”
Still, the Trump transition team’s recent request for the names of Energy Department workers who attended international meetings on climate change could make federal workers nervous. And the congressman behind the revival of the rule doesn’t sound like he’s ruling it out.
Rep. H. Morgan Griffith, R-Virginia, told The Washington Post that he wants members of Congress to have more power to reassign workers. And while he said it’s doubtful that members will “go crazy” and fire large numbers of federal employees, he added, “I can’t tell you it won’t happen. The power is there.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, told The Post that the rule “allows people to get at places they hadn’t before.”
Five D.C.-area House members said in a statement that the rule would “undermine” federal employee protections “by stripping away necessary safeguards.”
The lawmaker said: “Federal employees work in every congressional district to provide vital services that help keep our nation healthy, safe, and strong, but with this rule House Republicans would instead treat these civil servants like political pawns and scapegoats.”
The spokesman for Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Virginia, told The Post that the rule “diminishes the roles of the authorizing committees in the House, and will make it more difficult to pass appropriations bills in the new Congress.” She voted for an amendment to the House rules to take out the Holman rule, but in the end voted for the final package with Holman in it.
Trump has also suggested he’d institute a federal hiring freeze in his first 100 days in office.
Taken all together, Temin said, “It begins to fill in a painting that could be something disturbing.”
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