GOP revives Holman Rules, allowing lawmakers to target federal agencies, employees
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The package of rules passed by House Republicans includes a provision that allows lawmakers to reduce or eliminate federal agency programs and cut the pay of individual federal employees.
Called the Holman Rule, the measure was proposed in 1876 but used sparingly until it was reinstated by Republicans in 2017 and then scrapped by Democrats two years later. In theory, it could apply to any federal employee or agency — but for now the measure is seen as largely symbolic, as the Democratic Senate could block Republicans from using the provision.
Even if an attempt to use the rule is ultimately blocked, however, “It’s the potential use that makes it so worrisome,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. “If you’re a federal employee, this now becomes a risk that you have to think ‘I could get in hot water or my paycheck could go to zero or my job could fire me'” when making a career decision.
“Symbols can cause harm. We need a workforce that is committed to the public good and feels confident in making that choice. This is what is at stake here,” he said.
Republicans have embraced the Holman Rule as part of the party’s aggressive stance on the federal government, including President Donald Trump’s efforts to create new job classifications that would make it easier to fire government workers and his decision to move federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management. outside DC
The GOP on Monday touted the revived measure as a critical check on the Biden administration.
During the House of Representatives debate, Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.), an ally of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), blasted federal officials as “unelected bureaucrats, the real, real swamp creatures here in DC.” saying they had “viciously attacked the American people without consequence”.
She added, “Today marks our first step, and certainly not our last, in holding them accountable.”
Democrats and union leaders, however, denounced the rule’s revival as an opening for the GOP to attack federal agencies and the people who work in them for political reasons. Democrats warned that Republicans could abuse the power to cut federal workers’ wages or lay them off altogether — especially at a time when the government is investigating former President Donald Trump.
Rep. Ritchie Torres (DN.Y.) said the GOP’s approach would endanger “any federal official who draws the ire of the Republican majority.” A group of nine House and Senate members from the District, Maryland and Virginia denounced the rule as an attack on federal programs and individual employees.
“We are all too familiar with House Republican efforts to insult and punish hard-working federal civil servants for doing their jobs. But while moderate and experienced leaders in their ranks tried to prevent the return of the Holman Rule in 2017, it unfortunately appears that no one in today’s House Republican caucus is willing to take that stand now,” the report said. a joint statement.
The rule is named for a House member who proposed it nearly 150 years ago as an exception to the general practice of keeping policy decisions separate from spending decisions.
After its revival in 2017, Republicans had little success using the rule. Only two attempts to use it made even partial progress, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
An effort in 2017 would have transferred a division of the Congressional Budget Office with about 90 employees to another office. Republican sponsors argued the change would have improved the agency’s assessment of the legislation’s impact, but Democrats claimed it was intended to punish the CBO for negative assessments of GOP bills aimed at repealing the Affordable Care Act.
The other effort, in 2018, would have cut to $1 the salary of a federal employee in charge of an office that had been the subject of whistleblower complaints; opponents called the measure an attempt to punish without due process an individual who had been involved in a wide-ranging dispute.
In both cases, the amendments were defeated by bipartisan votes.
Republican supporters on Monday, however, said reinstating the rule would provide an important check on the federal government. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) — a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus — said the Holman Rule would “restore the people’s house” in the face of administrative action.
Federal employee unions and Democrats said reviving the rule offers more chances to try to target agencies or individuals for partisan reasons.
“I think it’s another tool of intimidation for civil servants who are just doing their jobs,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) in an interview. “It is designed to have a chilling effect on the ability of civil servants to do their jobs and enforce enforcement regulations and compliance with the law.”
“The whole purpose of it is to use it recklessly. There’s no way to use it responsibly,” said American Federation of Government Employees public policy director Jacqueline Simon. “It goes around everything that protects the civil service from political corruption — not just federal employees, but entire agencies.”
“It’s just for theater and to create chaos and disrupt the functioning of federal agencies, including law enforcement agencies,” she said.
Tony Reardon, head of the National Treasury Employees Union, argued that reinstating the rule offends the integrity of federal employees.
“Taxpayers want a federal workforce that is based on merit and employees who carry out their agency missions with professionalism and integrity,” Reardon said in a statement. “For Congress to raise those standards and punish individuals because of the work they’ve been assigned is outrageous.”
Tony Romm contributed to this report.