House Republicans made their first use of a revived rule allowing them to target the salaries of individual employees, using the appropriations process to go after employees conducting work the lawmakers believe is obsolete.
Conservative lawmakers initially targeted 89 employees at the Congressional Budget Office through an amendment to an appropriations bill that would fund a handful of federal agencies. That amendment failed Wednesday night by a 116-309 vote. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., introduced two additional amendments aimed at State and Defense Department employees working on Guantanamo Bay Naval Base policy, as well as one individual at the Army Corps of Engineers that DeSantis said led a duplicative office. The amendments were approved by the House Rules Committee but never received a vote on the floor.
Lawmakers also put forward amendments to strip the salaries of any employee working full time on official time (meaning anyone working on representational union activity) or anyone “not subject to at-will employment” (virtually the entire civil service subject to the spending bill) but those provisions did not make it out of the rules committee.
“CBO is meant to help Congress evaluate legislation, but I do not believe the agency as currently constituted can do so effectively,” said Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., who wrote the budget office amendment.
The legislative procedure became possible this year for the first time since 1983, as the House brought back a provision originally created in 1876 called the “Holman Rule.” The measure was included in the Rules of the 115th Congress in January, and allows lawmakers to reduce the number of federal workers at specific agencies or cut their compensation as a provision of or an amendment to an appropriations bill. The rule enables lawmakers to cut the workforce or compensation for employees only at the agencies covered by the specific spending bill in which the provision or amendment is included.
The House Policy Committee said at the time the rule was intended to “provide members with additional tools to reduce spending during consideration of the regular general appropriation bill.” Federal employee advocates warned it would instead lead to lawmakers unfairly scapegoating public servants.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said the first Holman Rule use was “everything we feared and everything we predicted.”
“It’s a pathway for abuse of federal employees who displease individual members of Congress,” Connolly said, adding it was a slippery slope: “Where does this end?”
He predicted, as an example, lawmakers attempting to eliminate an entire division of the Environmental Protection Agency because they did not approve of a rule it issued. He called the Holman Rule the “antithesis of a free government,” saying its repeated use would take the country down the road of an authoritarian regime that suppresses science, analysis and truth.
“I think it’s designed to have a chilling effect,” Connolly said. “That’s not accidental. It’s quite deliberate.” He added the rule should be “abolished and never heard from or seen again.”