The U.S. House of Representatives is convening for a rare Saturday session to address mail delivery disruptions, poised to pass legislation that would reverse recent changes in U.S. Postal Service operations and send $25 billion US in emergency funds to shore up the agency ahead of the November election.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the postal service will be “election central” as she recalled lawmakers to Washington in a highly unusual election year as millions of Americans are expected to opt for mail-in ballots to avoid polling places during the coronavirus pandemic.
The postal service is “under attack,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, chair of the oversight committee and the bill’s author, in the Democrats’ weekly address.
Postmaster provides no election plan
The daylong Saturday session comes as an uproar over mail interference puts the postal service at the centre of the nation’s tumultuous election year, with Americans rallying around one of the country’s oldest and more popular institutions.
New Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testified Friday in the Senate that his “No. 1 priority” is to ensure election mail arrives on time.
But the new postal leader, an ally of President Donald Trump’s, said he would not restore the cuts to mailboxes and sorting equipment that have already been made. He could not provide senators with a plan for handling the ballot crush for the election.
Democrats remain skeptical and are pushing ahead with legislation to be sure. Their bill would reverse the cuts and provide funds to the agency. With the majority, they are expected to easily pass the legislation.
But Republicans are unlikely to sign on, and the bill is certain to stall in the Republican-held Senate.
In a memo to House Republicans, leaders derided the legislation as a postal “conspiracy theory” act. Republicans say the reports of mail delivery problems are blown out of proportion and the postal service has enough money this year.
Republicans eye $10B plan
At the White House, Trump has said he wants to block emergency funding that would help the service handle a great increase in mail-in ballots.
Nevertheless, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is eyeing a $10 billion postal rescue as part of the next COVID-19 relief package. The White House has said it would be open to more postal funding as part of a broader bill.
The postal service has been struggling financially under a decline in mail volume, COVID-19-related costs and a rare and cumbersome congressional requirement to fund in advance its retiree health-care benefits.
For many, the postal service provides a lifeline, delivering not just cards and letters but also prescription drugs, financial statements and other items that are especially needed by mail during the pandemic.
The postal board of governors, appointed by Trump, selected DeJoy to take the job as postmaster general. A Republican donor, he previously owned a logistics business that was a longtime postal service contractor. He maintains significant financial stakes in companies that do business or compete with the agency, raising conflict-of-interest questions.
In a statement, the postal service said DeJoy has made all required financial disclosures, but he might have to divest some holdings if conflicts arise.
Republicans have long sought postal reforms to run the agency more like a private company, and Trump often complains the postal service should be charging Amazon and other companies higher rates for package deliveries. The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, also owns The Washington Post, a publication that Trump frequently derides as “fake news” when it publishes critical stories of him.
Others say the postal service is not expected to be solely a money-making enterprise, often delivering to far-flung places where it is not efficient to operate.