House GOP schemes to cut pay for federal workers

WASHINGTON (PAI) — Don’t look now, but if you’re a federal worker—union or non-union, contract or no contract—the U.S. House’s ruling Republicans snuck through a scheme that could let lawmakers try to unilaterally cut your pay.

It’s not a law. It’s not the budget. It’s not a money bill. It’s a change in the rules that govern the U.S. House itself.

By party-line votes, House Republicans pushed through a rules package on the second day of the 115th Congress, Jan. 4. Public attention focused on a rules change that would have trashed the chamber’s already weak ethics standards. After protests from good-government groups, calls and e-mails from constituents and an angry tweet from GOP President-elect Donald Trump, the Republicans hastily retreated from that plan.

But the same rules package contains the pay cut provision. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest federal workers union, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.—whose district includes many blue-collar feds—noticed and spoke up.

The provision resurrects the “Holman Rule,” which died in 1983. The Holman Rule says that “a provision or amendment that retrenches”—cuts—“expenditures by a reduction of amounts of money covered by the bill shall be construed as applying to any provision or amendment that retrenches expenditures by (1) the reduction of amounts of money in the bill; (2) the reduction of the number and salary of the officers of the United States; or (3) the reduction of the compensation of any person paid out of the Treasury of the United States.”

The key words in the arcane language are “compensation” to “any person paid” by the U.S. That covers all federal workers. The government employs 2.19 million workers and the Postal Service employs 612,000 more. Hundreds of thousands of them are union members.

That means lawmakers could single out individual workers, or groups of workers, for pay cuts – down to as little as $1 a year – for political reasons.

“The so-called Holman Rule undermines civil service protections for the millions of working people who process our Social Security checks, safeguard our borders, support our military, research cures for deadly diseases, and carry out programs and services vital to our nation,” said AFGE President J. David Cox.

“Reviving this rule means lawmakers will be able to vote to cut the pay and jobs of individual workers or groups of workers without getting input from the agencies where these employees work. The jobs and paychecks of career federal workers should not be subject to the whims of elected politicians. The Holman Rule will not only harm our hardworking federal workforce, but jeopardize critical governmental services” for everyone, he added.

Hoyer protested, too, but the Democrats couldn’t change the rules. “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,” Hoyer said. “It undermines civil service protections. It goes back to the 19th century,” when, though Hoyer did not say so, the spoils system reigned. Its originator, Rep. William Holman, D-Ind., was from that spoils era.

“Republicans consistently made our hardworking federal employees scapegoats…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,” Hoyer said.

AFGE will mobilize workers against any attempts to use the Holman Rule to actually cut pay, says spokesman Tim Kauffman. And workers have another weapon, he adds: Any cut still has to come up in money bills before the House, the Senate and, later, the president. That will give AFGE, other unions and workers a chance to battle such schemes.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.