By Stephen Dinan
A Republican congressman has introduced a bill that would stop government paychecks for officials who have been found in contempt of Congress — a move that seems designed in the short term to go after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
Mr. Holder has refused to cooperate with House Republicans’ probe into the Fast & Furious gun-walking operation, and the House has voted to find him in contempt. Mr. Holder is challenging that vote in court.
Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican who publicly excoriated Mr. Holder at a hearing last week, introduced the legislation just before Congress went on vacation, and announced it Tuesday.
“The American people should not be footing the bill for federal employees who stonewall Congress or rewarding government officials’ bad behavior,” Mr. Farenthold said.
Mr. Holder appeared before the House Judiciary Committee last week and faced harsh barbs over his defense of Obama administration policies. He bristled at having been held in contempt.
“You don’t want to go there, buddy, all right?” Mr. Holder barked at one congressman who speculated that the attorney general wasn’t taking the contempt accusation seriously. “I think that it was inappropriate. I think it was unjust. But never think that that was not a big deal to me. Don’t ever think that.”
When the time came for Mr. Farenthold to ask his questions, he demurred, saying he didn’t think the House should have even let Mr. Holder appear to testify, since he is actively being cited for contempt.
“I just don’t think it’s appropriate that Mr. Holder be here. If an American citizen had not complied with one of the Justice Department subpoenas, they would be in jail, not sitting here in front, testifying,” the congressman said.
It’s unclear whether the House will take up Mr. Farenthold’s new bill, and even less likely that the Senate, controlled by Democrats, would accept it.
But Mr. Farenthold hinted that Republicans could attach the paycheck denial to some of the annual spending bills.
His legislation would not apply to Lois G. Lerner, a former IRS official at the center of the agency’s tea party targeting scandal, who retired from government service in September.
Denying salaries for executive branch officials deemed in violation of congressional wishes is not new. For decades, Congress refused to pay salaries to officials who had been installed by recess appointments — a tool the president can use as an end-run around the Senate’s constitutional powers to confirm or reject nominees the White House sends over.
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