One of the many benefits of the members of The House Freedom Caucus having challenged Kevin McCarthy for Speaker was incorporating The Holman Rule into the House Rules for the 118th Congress (2023-2025). Very few have heard of The Holman rule, and even fewer could explain what it is, but this Rule could prove to be one of the most useful tools for House Republicans to defund terrible government programs and personnel.
Relying on The Holman Rule, Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-GA) have proposed cutting the salary of ATF director Steve Dettelbach — a particularly dangerous Biden Administration official who has been waging a war against gun owners and gun dealers in every way he can. The Holman Rule, named after Congressman William S. Holman of Indiana, originated in 1876 and gives a powerful tool to accomplish this and many other Conservative objectives.
In Congress, there is natural rivalry between the authorizing committees, which write the laws implemented by government agencies, and appropriating committees which determine how much money bureaucrats are given to spend. Appropriations bills determine how much money departments may spend, but ordinarily, they may not change the statutory scheme for the departments and agencies being funded.
Under The Holman Rule, however, appropriations bills may include “germane provisions that retrench expenditures by the reduction of amounts of money covered by the bill.” In other words, an appropriations bill may make changes in law to defund a particular program or even a particular employee. There are some limits to this Rule. For example, not just any program or government official can be defunded — it must be related (i.e., germane) to the appropriations bill. Since rules have been interpreted over the years by the House and its House parliamentarians, exactly what those limits are is a complex issue.
The Holman Rule was first in effect for a period at the end of the 19th Century, and for a while at the beginning of the 20th Century, but fell into disuse. It was revived by the Republicans in the 115th Congress (2017-2019), dropped by the Democrats in the 116th and 117th Congresses (2019-2023), but now has been reinstated by the Republicans for the 118th Congress (2023-2025).
Generally, The Holman Rule is supported by conservatives who want to cut spending for particularly bad programs and bureaucrats and is opposed by liberals who never seem to have a problem with spending and always want to protect bureaucrats from accountability. Former Speaker Tip O’Neill opposed The Rule to prevent spending cuts proposed by Republicans and conservative Democrats. Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposed The Rule when Democrats took charge in 2019 “because conservatives had held it over past Republican speakers as a threat.”
The federal employee unions hate The Holman Rule. “It takes the power and authority away from the President’s Cabinet secretaries and administrators to determine how to run agencies, and gives it solely to a member of Congress,” said J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “It’s a dangerous rule, it’s a reckless rule….” In opposing the Rule, Cox inadvertently explained why The Holman Rule is needed when he argued that it strips power from our unelected, unaccountable bureaucracy.
Since federal employees oppose the Rule, Congressmen representing areas around the D.C. Swamp oppose it. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) calls The Holman Rule “a backdoor way for MAGA Republicans to dismantle the federal workforce and carry out political vendettas at the expense of career civil servants…House Democrats will stand up for our brave, professional and experienced federal employees,” he said. Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) called it a “House Republican effort to vilify and punish hardworking federal civil servantsfor doing their jobs.” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) called it an “assault on our nation’s civil servants.”
Nine hard-left representatives from the Washington metro area, including January 6 Committee fraudster Jamie Raskin (D-MD), called the Rule a tool of “the extreme right wing” and the “hard right MAGA fringe.”
The Rule has already been suggested for use to achieve these important objectives:
- Rep. Taylor-Greene proposed using the Holman Rule to defund Attorney General “Garland’s politically weaponized Special Counsel” investigating former President Trump.
- Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) proposed using the Rule to “cleanse” the FBI and Justice Department.
- Before he retired, the House Freedom Caucus proposed using the Rule to cut Anthony Fauci’s salary.
Consider other ways The Holman Rule could be used:
- to defund Biden’s new 87,000 IRS agents.
- to defund prosecution of January 6 protestors.
- to reduce to $1 the salaries of deadbeat Cabinet members such as Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
- to cut federal funding for divisive and hateful programs masquerading under the label of “diversity, equity and inclusion.”
- to cut federal government collaboration with Big Tech companies to suppress conservative speech and promote leftist ideology.
The Holman Rule’s most prominent Congressional proponent, Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) has explained that Republicans can use The Holman Rule like a rifle rather than a shotgun. The federal budget is a target-rich environment, and Republicans have a very useful weapon in The Holman Rule. As always, the question is, will House Republicans have the courage and character to use it?
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