While Republicans in the House of Representatives were shamed by constituents into abandoning a plan to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, they did manage to reinstate an obscure rule that would allow them to target individual federal employees and programs by cutting their salaries to $1, or eliminating their jobs altogether.
President-elect Donald Trump's hostility toward federal agencies has already manifested itself in his cabinet selections and other top appointments, and a rule adopted by House Republicans could make the potential damage of a Trump presidency even worse.
The so-called "Holman Rule" would give anyone in the Republican-controlled House the ability to propose an amendment that would slash the salaries of individual federal employees to $1, or to even eliminate their jobs:
House Republicans this week reinstated an arcane procedural rule that enables lawmakers to reach deep into the budget and slash the pay of an individual federal worker — down to a $1 — a move that threatens to upend the 130-year-old civil service.
The Holman Rule, named after an Indiana congressman who devised it in 1876, empowers any member of Congress to offer an amendment to an appropriations bill that targets a specific government employee or program.
The Washington Post goes on to report that Trump's influence figured heavily in the rule change:
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said that insofar as voters elected Trump with the hope of fundamentally changing the way government works, the Holman Rule gives Congress a chance to do just that.
“This is a big rule change inside there that allows people to get at places they hadn’t before,” he told reporters this week.
Asked which agencies would be targeted, he said that “all agencies should be held accountable and tested in a manner and this is an avenue to allow them to do it.”
At least one scholar has suggested that initial enthusiasm for the new rule stemmed from its use as a device to allow the House to gain leverage against the Senate and President for repeal of several Reconstruction-era laws, including changes in jury qualifications and Federal election supervisors for the South, as well as a reorganization of the Army.
Not coincidentally, the revival of the rule would give Republicans the chance to target a federal workforce that has already been hit by job losses which disproportionately affected women and minorities.
Democrats and federal workers' unions have spoken out against the rule change, and not just as a matter of principle, but of practical consequences. House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer blasted the change in a floor speech this week:
First, reinstating the ‘Holman Rule’ would make it easier for the Majority to circumvent the current legislative process in order to fire or cut the pay of federal employees. It undermines civil service protections; it goes back to the nineteenth century. Republicans have consistently made our hardworking federal employees scapegoats, in my opinion, for lack of performance of the federal government itself, and this rule change will enable them to make short-sighted and ideologically driven changes to our nation's civil service.
Republicans' massive overreach in trying to gut the OCE was widely covered, yet this rule change has received little attention. But its potential to harm Americans, particularly in light of the Trump cabinet's already-evident hostility toward federal agencies that help people, ought to place this equally outrageous abuse of power top of mind for everyone.