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Historical Highlights

The Holman Rule

January 17, 1876
The Holman Rule Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Once and future Speaker Thomas B. Reed and Appropriations Committee Chairman William Holman are shown leaving the House Chamber through its main door in 1892.
On this date in 1876, by a vote of 156 to 102, the U.S. House of Representatives first adopted the Holman Rule that sought to institutionalize reductions in government spending through changes in House rules of operation. Proposed by the “watchdog of the Treasury,” Representative William S. Holman of Indiana, it modified House Rule 120 which prohibited appropriations “for any expenditure not previously authorized by law.” The only exceptions concerned public works in progress and contingency funds—generally applied as salary raises for government workers. The Rules Committee reported a change to Rule 120 that would allow legislative language in relevant appropriations bills to cut federal outlays. Holman explained that the Appropriations Committee held the authority under Rule 120 to increase spending, and now “we shall be able to retrench expenditures.” Opponents to the new rule, such as former Appropriations Chairman James A. Garfield of Ohio, warned that Appropriations would gain “such a general sweeping power” as “to render obsolete the power of all the other committees of the House.” Iowa’s John A. Kasson feared that the committee could replace the priorities of the authorization committees with its own. The House then proceeded to adopt the Rules Committee report. That the vote was along party lines indicated the majority’s expectations that the change would arm them in their upcoming battles with a Senate and President of the opposite party.

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