GOP lawmakers tap Holman Rule to slash the salaries of agency heads
If House conservatives get their way, multiple federal officials will open fiscal 2024 with $1 annual salaries.
With about three weeks remaining before a potential government shutdown, a handful of House Republicans are looking to cut the salaries of multiple cabinet secretaries and feds in leadership positions way down the agency org charts with amendments to fiscal 2024 spending bills.
The push targets Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Homeland Security head Alejandro Mayorkas, as well as defense officials with oversight of diversity programs and Food and Drug Administration regulators with oversight of public health and drug approval.
The members behind the various amendments include ultra-conservative GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., Chip Roy, R-Texas, Bob Good R-Va., Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Andy Biggs, R-Ariz.. Many from this group were among the holdouts in the 15-round bid to elect Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as Speaker of the House in a raucous two-day session in January.
Annual appropriations bills provide a forum for cutting the pay of specific federal employees thanks to the Holman Rule, an obscure legislative provision with roots in Reconstruction-era politics of the 19th century. The rule essentially offers a loophole for any member who wants to use spending bills to legislate by allowing for the addition of provisions and amendments to appropriations bills, provided they reduce spending, reduce the workforce or cut salaries.
The rule was revived in 2017, after decades of disuse, by the Republican majority in the House. Democrats ditched the rule after taking control in 2019, but it was brought back again in 2023 as part of the Republican rules package.
"Republicans use the Holman Rule for one singular purpose — to continue Donald Trump’s war against the nonpartisan civil service," Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., told Nextgov/FCW in an emailed statement. "It is designed to intimidate and provide a chilling effect on the ability of federal employees to do their jobs. The American people want and deserve a federal workforce based on skill and merit, not politics and partisanship. Instead, the Holman Rule allows for a system wherein any individual federal employee who draws the ire of the Republican majority can be terminated or punished at whim without a hint of due process. It is dangerous and wrong."
This year, members are targeting officials via the Defense, Homeland Security and Agriculture bills that are before the House Rules Committee. More Holman amendments will likely be offered to other spending bills as they come up.
Rep. Good is taking on leadership at FDA with amendments to defund directors in the Office of Surveillance and Epidemiology, the Division of Risk Management, the Office of Compliance, the Office of New Drugs and the Office of Regulatory Policy.
Boebert is targeting Austin for a salary cut to $1. She's also looking to slash the pay of Gil Cisneros, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and several other officials whose duties include implementing diversity and inclusion programs. Separately, an amendment from Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., targets the salary of Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Holman Rule amendments face a steep path to enactment. They not only have to survive House votes but also pass the Senate, where 60 votes are required to close debate on spending bills.
"There's probably less danger from that rule than meets the eye," Sarah Binder, a Congress expert at the Brookings Institution, told FCW in 2017 for a previous article on the revival of the Holman Rule. "However, if decisions are being made by leadership in big, must-pass bills at midnight — then yes, there is a danger."
Lengthy debates and floor votes on spending amendments can consume one precious commodity — time. The House returns to session on Sept. 12 with a Sept. 30 deadline to pass funding bills or a continuing resolution that keeps the federal government running while lawmakers finalize fiscal 2024 spending.
"I implore my Republican colleagues in the House to recognize that time is short to keep the government open," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, "and the only way to avoid a shutdown is through bipartisanship."
Schumer's Republican counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, didn't sound hopeful when asked about a possible government shutdown at an event in his home state of Kentucky last week.
"Honestly, it's a pretty big mess," McConnell said.