WASHINGTON (CN) — House Democrats hope to sign, seal and deliver legislation this weekend that will buoy the U.S. Postal Service with $25 billion in emergency funding and prohibit any changes to mail operations until the Covid-19 pandemic has subsided.
The vote is slated for Saturday and brings House lawmakers back into session from a recess that was expected to last into early September.
But regular commentary from President Donald Trump that he will not fund the Post Office, despite requests from its own board of governors to do so, along with his near daily and baseless assertions that mail-in voting cannot be trusted this November have pushed Democrats to move with more deliberate speed as the election looms just 75 days away.
“You are in complete denial of the world around you,” Representative Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat, told Republicans on the House Rules Committee during a tense legislative session Friday where H.R. 8015, or the Delivering for America Act, was hotly debated.
The bill, sponsored by Democrat Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York, pours $25 billion into the Postal Service and bars recently proposed clawbacks on overtime for employees and changes to mail delivery procedures directed by postmaster general and Trump megadonor Louis DeJoy.
It also calls for a return to operations as they were on Jan. 1, two months before the pandemic brought America to a standstill.
Lynch’s blunt assessment of Republicans followed a lengthy and heated exchange where members could not be further apart on the state of the U.S. Postal Service and whether it is enduring an actual crisis or one “manufactured” by Democrats eager to unseat the incumbent president, as Kentucky Republican Representative James Comer put it Friday.
Since the pandemic began, 10% of the Postal Service’s 630,000-member workforce has been infected with Covid-19, according to the agency, forcing many mail centers to function understaffed and causing services and deliveries to suffer.
Under guidance from DeJoy to reduce and remove mail sorting machines, delays have steadily ticked upward since May, according to widespread reports as well as the hundreds of irate phone calls lawmakers like Lynch and others said they receive from constituents who aren’t seeing important mail show up on time, including prescription medication they depend on to live.
Significant outcry over DeJoy’s changes from both the public and from bipartisan members of Congress over the last several weeks prompted the postmaster to say he would hold off on some shakeups until after the election.
Appearing in the flesh before a Senate panel Friday, DeJoy said he would prioritize election mail but also said he has no plans to restore hundreds of mail sorting machines and blue mailboxes that have been removed in recent months.
He emphatically vowed postal workers would “scour every plant each night leading up to Election Day” for errant ballots and urged that he is “very, very confident” American voters will not be disenfranchised in November.
But Maloney and others said in the House hearing that DeJoy’s statements to senators are contrary to a warning the Postal Service issued on Aug. 14 to 46 states and the District of Columbia saying the anticipated flood of mail-in ballots this year could mean not every vote will be counted, even if voters follow rules to a tee.
Under former Postmaster General Megan Brennan, the Postal Service asked Congress in April for $75 billion to see its way through the pandemic, an emergency that has only magnified existing weaknesses in the service’s operations. Though President Trump states regularly that the agency is not competitive because it’s losing major profits on deliveries to retailers like Amazon, in truth revenues are down because of a confluence of factors, most of which were set in motion years ago.
For 14 years, the Postal Service has been locked into a mandate setting aside $5 billion per year in advance funding for retiree health benefits. This chews up revenue for the agency, which keeps itself afloat not on the taxpayer dime but on its own profits through services and products it provides to the public.
The proposed $25 billion in assistance for the Postal Service was already approved under the Heroes Act, a Covid-19 relief package passed by the House months ago and summarily shot down by the GOP-controlled, Senate which dubbed it a Democratic wish list.
The proposed aid package was lowered to $10 billion during negotiations between Congress and the White House, but those talks disintegrated and lead to the latest push by Democrats to shore up struggling Postal Service.
Though Friday’s hearing was fraught with accusations and conspiracy on election stealing and sabotage from both sides of the aisle, Maloney offered an olive branch to Republicans who balked at the legislation when she agreed to remove a provision that would have given Americans the right to sue the Post Office if they felt their rights were violated under the bill.
While the legislation is expected to pass on Saturday, it is unlikely to see any success in the Senate. Instead, reprieve for the Postal Service is likely to be delivered in a “skinny” relief bill Republicans are now championing. The current version would give only $10 billion to the agency and makes no demands on the postmaster to ensure a successful season of mail-in voting amid a pandemic.
The White House indicated late Friday that even if the House bill passed the Senate, the president would veto the bill on the grounds that it is an “overreaction to sensationalized media reports” about delays and disruptions at the Postal Service.