House passes $25B bill to boost Postal Service
The House on Saturday passed legislation that would prevent the U.S. Postal Service from making any changes to its operations that could slow delivery of mailed-in ballots for this fall’s elections.
The bill passed largely along party lines, 257-150, with 26 Republicans bucking party leaders to support it.
The rare Saturday vote came after Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced earlier this week that he would suspend cost-cutting measures until after the November elections.
But Democrats argued DeJoy’s announcement fell short and didn’t reverse the measures already enacted that have caused mail delivery delays. Additionally, there’s a clear lack of trust between the Democrats and the postmaster general.
“His comments are one thing; his actions will be another,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “And that’s why we have this legislation.”
The proposal would prevent the Postal Service from making any operational changes that would result in reduced service — such as removing mail-sorting machines, restricting overtime pay or handling election mail as anything other than first-class for prioritized delivery — until the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
It would also provide $25 billion for Postal Service operations, which is an amount originally recommended by the agency’s board of governors. House Democrats also included the funding in the $3.4 trillion coronavirus relief package that they passed in May.
“It makes absolutely no sense to implement these dramatic changes in the middle of a pandemic, less than three months before the November elections,” House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the author of the bill, said during floor debate.
While some GOP lawmakers crossed party lines to vote for the bill, House GOP leaders urged their members to vote against it. And the bill is poised to hit a brick wall in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has signaled his intention to ignore it.
The White House has also issued a veto threat.
Republicans largely downplayed the impact of DeJoy’s cost-cutting measures, such as removing increasingly unused blue curbside drop boxes, and accused Democrats of promoting a “conspiracy theory.”
“Like the Russia hoax and the impeachment sham, the Democrats have manufactured another scandal for political purposes,” said Rep. James Comer (Ky.), the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
DeJoy, a GOP donor who left the private sector to become postmaster general in June, had overseen measures that included restricting overtime for mail carriers and removing some mail-sorting machines and drop boxes.
Alarm over the resulting mail delivery delays has been compounded by President Trump’s persistent attacks on voting by mail and attempts to sow doubt in its reliability. Trump himself, however, has voted absentee in multiple Florida primary elections this year.
DeJoy testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Friday that the Postal Service is “fully capable and committed to delivering the nation’s election mail securely and on time.”
DeJoy further acknowledged the recent delivery delays, including the effect on some veterans’ mail-order prescription medications processed through the Veterans Affairs health system.
“We all feel bad about what the dip in our service, the level, has been,” DeJoy said in response to questioning from Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
DeJoy is also set to be grilled by members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Monday morning.
In addition to mail-in ballots, many states allow early in-person voting so people can avoid potential lines at polling places on Election Day while the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing. Voters also often have the option of receiving a ballot in the mail and then dropping it off in person at the local election office or designated drop box ahead of Election Day.
House Democratic leaders called lawmakers back early from the August recess for a rare weekend session to consider the legislation. They scheduled the vote to fall between the two parties’ conventions: Democrats held theirs this past week to formally nominate former Vice President Joe Biden for the White House, while the GOP event to renominate Trump will begin Monday.
Funding for the Postal Service has also been part of negotiations over a coronavirus relief package. But the bipartisan talks have been stalled for weeks, primarily over funding for state and local governments and extending a $600-per-week federal unemployment insurance supplement that expired at the end of July.
More than 100 House Democrats signed on to a letter this week urging leadership to schedule a vote on Saturday on legislation that would renew the $600 unemployment insurance payments on a time frame based on econometrics rather than an arbitrary expiration date.
The HEROES Act relief package that House Democrats passed in May would have extended the payments through January 2021.
But Pelosi swatted down the idea of voting Saturday on a standalone unemployment insurance bill, arguing that it could undermine leverage for other aspects of a coronavirus aid package.
“I’m not for splitting it up, except this is an emergency,” Pelosi said, referring to the postal bill. “And it has policy in it that was not in the HEROES Act.”
The White House offered $10 billion for the Postal Service in the negotiations earlier this month, but Republicans have opposed a vote on a standalone postal bill, pressing instead to combine the new funding with money for small businesses, schools and unemployment benefits.
“Is [Pelosi] saying that the Postal Service is more important than unemployed Americans? Is she saying that the Postal Service is more important than help to small businesses?” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters on Capitol Hill on Saturday. “I would hope not because she’s here doing a very slimmed-down version of a negotiation that took place a few weeks ago when we made the $10 billion offer for postal.”
It’s unclear how the impasse will be resolved. In an ominous sign of things to come, Meadows indicated that the sides haven’t spoken since the talks broke down earlier in the month.
“We haven’t had any talks for weeks,” he said.