The House of Representatives in a contentious March 20, 2018, vote passed the continuation of an old procedural rule that would give Congress the ability to cut the pay of individual federal workers and to eliminate entire agency programs.

The Holman Rule, first passed in 1876 and named for Indiana Rep. William Holman, was removed from the House rule book in 1983. The rule was then reinstated in the Rules of the House for the 115th Congress, but applied only to the first session or year.

House Republicans extended the Holman Rule through the end of the current Congress by adding it to H.Res. 787, which provides for the consideration of two unrelated bills.

“Last night, without any public debate, House Republicans snuck into legislation the Holman Rule — a cynical and dangerous attack on federal workers that allows members of Congress to reduce the salaries of federal employees. This archaic tool, also known as the Armageddon Rule, is nothing more than a backdoor way for Republicans to dismantle the federal workforce and carry out political vendettas at the expense of career civil servants,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.

House Freedom Caucus members used the Holman Rule in July 2017 to propose the removal of the Congressional Budget Office’s 89-person budget analysis division, though the amendment was voted down by both Republicans and Democrats.

“This is a page right out of President Trump’s playbook. Reinstating the Holman Rule is no empty threat by the majority. Last year, they used it to attack the Congressional Budget Office. If they can justify political attacks on CBO — the nonpartisan congressional scorekeeper — no one is safe,” said Connolly.

Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., who made reinstatement of the Holman rule a primary goal after his reelection in 2016 and cosponsored the July 2017 CBO amendment, characterized the rule as a key component to Congress’s “power of the purse” in a January 2017 newsletter.

Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., criticized the resolution’s “lack of procedural order” in a speech on the House floor, as the larger House body was not allowed to make amendments to it before consideration. In addition, Hastings accused those involved with reinstating the rule as intending to scapegoat federal employees.

The resolution including the Holman Rule passed along party lines, with three Republicans voting against it.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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