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FCW : January and February 2017
18 January/February 2017 FCW.COM s Congress going to start using the authority of a resurrected appropria- tions rule to target individual feds with pay cuts? Plenty of people are saying it could happen, and part of the reason is a recent Washington Post story with the red-siren headline “House Repub- licans revive obscure rule that allows them to slash the pay of individual fed- eral workers to $1.” The Holman Rule was adopted as part of the current House rules pack- age at the urging of Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), who wants to use it to target a $70 million program that supports the care of wild horses. The rule dates back to 1876 and was phased out in 1983. It originated as a way for Demo- crats to defund the federal govern- ment’s Reconstruction program in the southern states after the Civil War. It essentially offers a loophole for mem- bers who want to use spending bills to legislate. The rule allows for the addi- tion of provisions and amendments to appropriations bills as long as they reduce spending, reduce the workforce or cut salaries. So can Congress use the Holman Rule to cut a government employee’s salary to $1? Possibly, but it would take some doing. And it would be just as possi- ble for Congress to use the rule to cut entire programs, departments, bureaus and agency functions. “My guess is that the biggest concern shouldn’t be among federal workers whose jobs might be targeted,” said Charles Stewart III, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Insti- tute of Technology whose 1989 book, “Budget Reform Politics: The Design of the Appropriations Process in the House of Representatives, 1865-1921,” includes a deep dive into the formula- tion and early application of the Hol- man Rule. “The potential power of the Holman Rule is that it can just abolish whole agencies by zeroing out spending,” Stewart told FCW. “I’ve been thinking that the first tar- get would be the set of federal agencies that Ronald Reagan tried to abolish but was unsuccessful in, such as the Legal Services Corporation,” he added. “Potential” is a key word here. Just because a provision or amendment is ruled in order does not mean it will wind up in a final bill and pass the House. In addition, such measures must pass muster in 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 Brook- ings Institution, told FCW. “However, if decisions are being made by leadership in big, must-pass bills at midnight, then, yes, there is a danger.” Holman’s history Although it’s tricky to go back through more than a century of appropriations bills to identify individuals singled out for legislative pay cuts or termination under the Holman Rule, the parlia- mentary history publications Cannon’s Precedents and Deschler’s Precedents provide details on how provisions and amendments proposed under the Hol- man Rule were adjudicated over the years. The rule has supported targeted job cuts, salary reductions at boards and agencies, headcount caps at agencies and caps on daily pay for certain con- tracting activities. It was even used in support of a failed 1916 bid to trim the The House’s adoption of a 140-year-old rule aimed at limiting spending has raised concerns that lawmakers might target the salaries of individual agency employees BY ADAM MAZMANIAN COULD CONGRESS REALLY CUT FEDS’ PAY TO $1? 0217fcw_018-019.indd 18 1/24/17 9:38 AM
November and December 2016