House rule change puts feds at risk of job and pay cuts

The one-year revival of the Holman Rule in the House gives lawmakers the authority to reduce the federal workforce or cut employee pay legislatively.

man planning layoffs

A provision in the House of Representatives rules package passed by the Republican majority on Jan. 3 revives a rule dating back to 1876 that gives members the authority to fire or cut the pay of federal employees legislatively.

The Holman Rule, named for 19th century Indiana congressman William Holman, permits House members to offer amendments to appropriations bills to the full House that cut spending. The goal was designed to block appropriations riders to increase spending from being offered on the House floor. But it also has the specific effect of allowing amendments that cover "the reduction of the number and salary of the officers of the United States," or "the reduction of the compensation of any person paid out of the Treasury of the United States."

Such terminations or pay cuts would have the force of law, and supersede any civil service or other employment protections. The rule as passed is in effect for 2017, the first year of the 115th Congress.

House members in the D.C. area opposed the measure, because of the potential impact on federal employees.

"We know the majority would like to gut the functionality of the federal government," said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). "The dangerous and indiscriminate cuts of sequestration are evidence enough of that. However, this rules package provides them with the surgical tools necessary to reach into the inner workings of the federal government and cut away each part and employee that runs afoul of their ideological agenda."

"I cannot see how anyone who calls themselves a friend to federal employees could support this proposal," Connolly added.

In a group statement, Connolly and other Capitol-region Democratic lawmakers -- including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Eleanor Holmes Norton, John Delaney and Don Beyer -- said the revival of the Holman Rule would "treat these civil servants like political pawns and scapegoats."

The American Federation of Government Employees also objected to the measure. "The jobs and paychecks of career federal workers should not be subject to the whims of elected politicians," AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. "The Holman Rule will not only harm our hardworking federal workforce, but jeopardize the critical governmental services upon which the American people rely."

Opposition to the rule was not limited to Democrats. Some appropriators are concerned that opening up deliberations to include a new category of amendments would lead to legislative logjams.

"I shudder to think how long it would take to consider an appropriations bill with a whole new category of made in order amendments, not necessarily related to discretionary funding," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) in an April 2016 Rules Committee hearing on the topic of future rules changes.

At that same hearing, one of the Holman Rule's staunchest supporters, Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), said the rule was a check against the tilt of "power to the administrative branch of government."

"It tilts the power to them, because now all we can do is limit the money going to a particular area…and then the cuts are then decided by…the administrative branch of government," Griffith said.

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