Republicans use Holman Rule to propose 89 personnel cuts at CBO

This story has been updated to indicate that the amendment failed in a House vote Wednesday night. 

House lawmakers easily defeated a Holman Rule amendment that would have targeted 89 employees at the Congressional Budget Office. The amendment failed in 116-209 vote Wednesday night and won’t be included in the “Make America Secure Appropriations Act,” which House members are trying to finalize before they leave for August recess at the end of the week.

It was the first time lawmakers attempted to use the rule since the House reinstated it earlier this year.

The little-known relic from the 1870s lets any member of the House make significant changes to agency functions or personnel through an amendment during the appropriations process.

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Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) introduced the amendment, along with Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Scott Perry (R-Pa.). They attached the amendment to a “minibus” of bills, which includes the defense, legislative, military construction and veterans affairs and energy and water appropriations acts for fiscal 2018.

“The Budget Analysis Division of the Congressional Budget Office, compromising 89 employees with annual salaries aggregating $15 million is hereby abolished,” the amendment reads. “The duties imposed by law and regulation upon the employees of that division are hereby transferred to the Office of the Director of the Congressional Budget Office.”

CBO’s Budget Analysis Division projects federal spending baselines and predicts cost estimates for formal bills under consideration in Congress.

Democrats in the national capital region, including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), along with Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.), Anthony Brown (D-Md.) Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), John Delaney (D-Md.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.), blasted the amendment, calling it “part of a strategic assault on objectivity and expertise in the civil service.”

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“This is exactly what we worried about when Republicans reinstated this arcane rule in January,” members said in a joint statement. “The Holman Rule empowers members of Congress to target individual federal employees. The rule is being used to punish an important advisory body for doing its job by providing forecasts which some members now find inconvenient.”

Some good government organizations, like the Partnership for Public Service and the Project on Government Oversight are speaking out against the Holman Rule proposal.

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“Getting rid of the CBO would send a chilling message to all other independent offices, such as the Congressional Research Service or the Government Accountability Office, to tell Congress what it wants to hear or risk being closed,” POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian said in a July 25 statement. “If there are legitimate concerns over the operation of the CBO, the solution is reform not decimation.”

The Holman Rule amendment is another example of targets against “nonpartisan public servants, just because they did their job,” the National Treasury Employees Union added.

Lawmakers voted back in January to reinstate the “Holman Rule,” a little-known provision that allows lawmakers to bring an amendment on an appropriations bill to the House floor that may “retrench” agency spending, reduce the number of federal employees in a particular agency or cut the salary or “compensation of any person paid out of the Treasury of the United States.”

They included the measure in the House rules package at the beginning of the 115th Congress.

The Holman Rule essentially lets House lawmakers make changes to a federal employee’s salary or position without input from the appropriations committee. Members can debate these amendments on the House floor for a limited time.

But members of Congress haven’t included the Holman Rule since a congressional session in 1983. The rule itself dates back to 1876 and has been a part of the rules package on occasion since then.