Amid holiday greeting uproar, House eyes new mail rules

House leaders have been sent new guidelines on what can be said in official congressional mailings amid an uproar over the ban on holiday greetings such as “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah.”

Members were indignant this week after it was reported that the House manual on “franking” — taxpayer-funded mail from Congress — includes a long-standing prohibition on specific holiday greetings. Under the rule, lawmakers can only wish constituents a generic “Happy Holidays” in official correspondence.

Reps. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) and Mike Ross (D-Ark.) blasted the Franking Commission for enforcing “political correctness” and circulated a Dear Colleague letter calling for the holiday greeting ban to be lifted.

“The Franking Commission should not be in the business of limiting Members from addressing their constituents in the manner they chose,” Walsh and Ross said in a statement.

The bipartisan outrage has attracted headlines in various media outlets this holiday season, including the Drudge Report and Fox News.

Walsh and Ross asked members to sign a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) calling for a change in the franking guidelines. The letter was also addressed to Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), chairman of the Committee on House Administration, and ranking member Robert Brady (D-Pa).

But in a brief interview with The Hill, the Republican chairman of the Franking Commission said a new set of guidelines has already been sent to House leaders.

“The Franking Commission has spent the last year coming up with a whole host of revisions, and those are before the leadership now awaiting approval,” Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) said.

Schock would not say whether the manual proposes changes to the rules on holiday greetings.

“I can’t say what will be approved and what won’t be approved, but it’s definitely been an issue that’s been brought up before,” Schock said. “It’s been a perennial issue.”

Boehner’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the status of the new franking manual.
Schock noted that the process of updating the franking manual has been bipartisan. The Franking Commission is made up of three Republican and three Democratic members, including Reps. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) and Bob Latta (R-Ohio).
“There’s no advantage to being in the majority, so anything we do has to be done and agreed to by both sides,” Schock said. “You can write all the letters you want; at the end of the day there’s a process and we’ve been going through the process on all the Franking Commission rules.”
When asked if there was any estimate on when such changes could be approved, Schock was cautiously optimistic.
“My indication is sometime in January, because it will take effect next year,” he said.

Congressional officials pointed out that the holiday controversy has come up before, adding that regulations prohibiting holiday greetings in franked mail are not new.

According to a staffer familiar with the Franking Committee guidelines, they fall under a U.S. code that has been on the books since 1974. Guidelines also prohibit other personal greetings, such as birthday, anniversary and condolence wishes.

Others have noted, however, that the Senate franking regulations are less stringent than the lower chamber’s.