By Kellie Mejdrich, CQ

March 19, 2018 – 10:01 p.m.

House Republican leaders have proposed extending a rule that allows cuts to individual federal employees’ salaries as part of a measure approved late Monday night setting up floor procedure for two unrelated bills.

Tucked into a floor rule (H Res 787) that tees up consideration for two unrelated bills (HR 4566HR 5247) relating to financial services and health policy is a provision that extends the “Holman rule.” The Holman rule is a standing order provided in the House rules adopted in January 2017 (H Res 5). Previously, the Holman rule was in order through the first session of the 115th Congress, and the new rule introduced Monday would extend it through the second session.

The Holman rule, created in 1876 by Rep. William S. Holman, D-Ind., allows floor amendments on appropriations bills to target individual salaries or workforce levels. The rule essentially permits floor amendments that “retrench” expenditures — in other words, cut spending — using legislative language that was not previously authorized. The cuts could reduce federal salaries, compensation from the Treasury and amounts of money in individual spending bills.

The House in July considered a Holman rule amendment as part of the Republican-written omnibus measure (HR 3219). Proposed by Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., the amendment would have cut a certain division of the Congressional Budget Office. It was rejected by a vote of 116-309 on July 26.

House Republicans’ decision to reinstate the rule now for the second session of the 115th Congress may signal a willingness by leadership to give rank-and-file members broader latitude to force cuts in spending bills.

But that type of procedure can be difficult for the House majority to manage because it can be used as a dilatory procedure by the minority. As House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, recalled in January 2017: “Certainly, I mean, if you go back and look how it was used  . . .  what term would you put to it, ‘abused?’ Or ‘utilized?’”

Most of the provisions that are known as the Holman rule were removed from the standing rules in 1983. House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., spoke out against reinstating the rule in April 2016 during a Rules Committee hearing.

Cole said the proposal “would significantly expand what amendments could be offered on appropriations bills” and “would diminish the roles of the authorizing committees, make them less central to the legislative process and at the same time make it harder to pass appropriations bills.”

Cole said reinstating the rule “would involve appropriations bills in more controversies and increase the number of amendments to appropriations bills, which has already exploded in recent years.”

He noted at the hearing that during the last year in which the Holman rule was in effect, 59 floor amendments had been offered to 10 appropriations bills brought to the floor. In 2015, 456 amendments were proposed on just seven bills.

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