House approves $25B bill to fund postal service; likely dead on arrival
WASHINGTON (CN) — It is all but a foregone conclusion that it will be killed on arrival, but in a rare Saturday session, the Democrat-controlled House sent its message express to the Republican-majority Senate: With a 257-150 vote, the U.S. Postal Service must have its $25 billion ahead of the November election and any cutbacks to operations must be stopped.
Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern, the chair of the House Rules Committee who led a bitter legislative session on the Delivering for America Act just 24 hours before the special weekend vote, said from the House floor Saturday that lawmakers were insistent on passing the bill because “democracy is being eroded” by President Donald Trump and his megadonor, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
“It is under siege on all fronts,” McGovern said, pointing to ubiquitous calls from Trump to end the use of mail-in ballots even as the Postal Service predicts ten times the normal amount of election mail this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The president fears that if more people vote, the less likely he is to win a second term,” McGovern remarked.
The legislation was introduced by Representative Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, in response to weeks of austerity unfolding inside of the Postal Service where DeJoy slashed overtime for mail carriers and reduced delivery rates for “efficiency.”
The revelations on DeJoy’s changes only went public after a leaked internal PowerPoint presentation in mid-July revealed stark warnings on the agency’s insolvency and an unequivocal directive to deliver mail the next day or later and to leave mail behind at distribution centers if an employee’s shift ran into overtime.
On Saturday, as lawmakers debated on the floor, new internal documents from the Postal Service were brought forward by Maloney. Part of an internal briefing delivered to DeJoy on Aug. 12 included slides showcasing a significant decline in service standards since July 1, well after DeJoy began his tenure. These were more severe than DeJoy led lawmakers to believe during a recent visit to the Senate, Maloney said.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and others have regularly contended mail delays were “manufactured” and part of a “conspiracy theory” designed by Democrats to harass Trump.
DeJoy, who served as a deputy finance chairman to the Republican National Committee in 2017, has donated over $1.2 million to the Trump Victory Fund since 2016 and more than $3 million to various Republican political groups. He also donated significant sums to the campaigns of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, according to data compiled by the FEC.
His open affinity for the president and his appointment by the USPS Board of Governors, all Trump appointed, have made him a lightning rod for criticism that his role is really that of a political operative queued up to privatize the postal service long at the president’s behest.
An extensive report by NPR on DeJoy weaves together the story of his ascendancy and notes concerns raised by a recently resigned board member that DeJoy was not suitable as postmaster general. He is also one of only five officials to come to the position without rising through the agency’s ranks first.
DeJoy is the former CEO of supply chain provider New Breed Logistics, which he sold for $615 million to XPO Logistics, a company offering competing services to USPS before founding a real estate investment and consulting company.
Disclosures provided to Congress by DeJoy and his wife Aldona Wos depict a lucrative portfolio: Between the two, DeJoy and Wos hold roughly $30 to $75 million in assets and investments, most of which stem from XPO Logistics.
Wos also presently serves as vice chair for the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships and has a nomination as U.S. ambassador to Canada pending before the Senate.
These factors, among others, have cast a shadow over DeJoy for lawmakers and on Aug. 7 prompted a bicameral call on Postal Service inspector general Tammy Whitcomb to formally investigate the operational changes to the service initiated by DeJoy.
Extended public outcry prompted DeJoy to announce he would end changes rolled out earlier this summer until after the November election, but his appearance in the Senate Friday to discuss the rancor surrounding him and the post office generated few good feelings.
Though DeJoy said he would prioritize election mail and even put it ahead of First Class mail standards, he would not commit to restoring sorting machines removed from mail centers, a key element to processing massive amounts of mail quickly.
Over 90 Democrats have called for DeJoy’s resignation while Republicans like Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma and others beseech them to focus instead on negotiating the next round of relief for Americans crushed under the weight of the Covid-19 pandemic still raging inside U.S. borders.
“I want to give some free political advice. You want to pass this bill? You want to get it through the Senate or to the White House? If that’s true, then make it bigger,” Cole said. “Make it something we all agree on… No money is going to get to the Post Office because it won’t get to the Senate.”
Republicans insist a cash infusion to the Postal Service is unnecessary, pointing to a $10 billion line of credit approved by the Treasury Department in July still untapped.
“The blank check of $25 billion doesn’t solve any of the existing problems,” Republican Representative Bob Woodall of Georgia said Saturday. “In divided government, you cannot bully your way to success. You have to partner your way to success. Let’s move on Paycheck Protection Program extensions, let’s move on vaccine funding, on law enforcement reform.”
The House passed the Heroes Act with meager Republican support in May but the Senate has refused to take it up. In addition to trillions flagged for the unemployed, schools, and state and local governments, it also included $25 billion for the Postal Service as requested by their Republican-controlled board of governors in March.
Instead, Senate and House Republicans are rallying around a “skinny” relief package known as the Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act. It includes $10 billion for the Postal Service but is being met with resistance by Democrats who say its attached assistance for unemployment insurance — $300 in additional weekly benefits versus the Heroes Act’s $1,200 — fail to make the grade.
Though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the body back for last week’s emergency session, Congress is still on break until after Labor Day and negotiations on relief, be it for Covid-19 or the Postal Service, likely won’t resume until then.
Art Sackler, executive director of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, a group of mailers, shippers and suppliers, said in an email Saturday that their organization would “defer to Congress on exactly what the [amount of relief] should be.”
But given the fierce divide between Republicans and Democrats, Sackler said there might be an “adroit way to bridge the gap” between them by passage of the Postal Service Emergency Assistance Act proposed by Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins.
The legislation, unlike the Heroes Act or the GOP’s skinny relief package, is a straight up and down bill infusing the Postal Service with $25 billion only and omitting any other appropriations that have for weeks tied both the House and Senate in knots.
The USPS did not immediately return a request for comment Saturday on what it expects next but Postmaster DeJoy is slated to testify before the House on Monday.