115th Congress: US House Reinstated 19th Century Holman Rule

When the 115th Congress of the United States convened on Jan. 3, 2017, as required by law, The House of Representatives gathered to establish the rules the legislative body will follow for the next two years. One of the rules passed, the Holman Rule, reinstated an archaic rule first established in 1876 and unused for the past three decades.

While public attention was focused on the House Republicans’ intention to take control of the currently independent Office of Congressional Ethics, which after public outcry and scolding from President-elect Donald Trump, was shelved, the reinstatement of the Holman Rule drew little press, but it has the potential to have a substantial impact on anyone who draws a paycheck from the federal government, as both its promoter hopes and as its detractors fear.

Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R-Virginia) promoted the idea of reinstating the Holman Rule which gives federal lawmakers the ability to propose an amendment to any appropriations bill that could single out an individual federal employee, or group of employees, or even a specific program, reducing the federal funding to the person or program to as little as $1. The House approved the reinstatement for one year, to be evaluated at that time to determine if an extension is warranted.

Griffith, in explaining why he favored a reinstatement of the Holman Rule, named after the representative from Indiana who authored the 19th century rule, pointed to a federal program that provides $80 million annually for the care of wild horses on federal land, a program that Griffith is opposed to. Use of the Holman Rule would allow for that program to be de-funded as well as any program or its employees for any reason, ostensibly to reduce wasteful government spending, but in reality could be used to further the political agenda of the ruling party.

While Griffith, who likened the use of the Holman Rule to the accuracy of a sniper’s rifle rather than a shotgun, told The Washington Post that it was “unlikely – but not impossible” that the rule would be used to eliminate a large number of federal programs or federal employees. Griffith said:

“I can’t tell you it won’t happen. The power is there. But isn’t that appropriate? Who runs this country, the people of the United States or the people on the people’s payroll?”

Those who support the use of the provision point out that the passage of such an amendment would require both bodies of the federal legislature passing it, but considering the oft time complexity of legislation under consideration, would the full legislative body necessarily be aware of such an amendment, meaning that it could be passed inadvertently?

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