The House in a rare August Saturday session passed legislation, 257-150, that would reverse operational changes at the U.S. Postal Service made since the start of the year and to provide the agency $25 billion to help sustain service levels through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Democrats have viewed the slowing of mail delivery in recent weeks as an emergency because of important items the Postal Service delivers like medications and checks. They also expressed significant concerns about the impact Postal Service delays would have on the November election, with a record number of people expected to mail in their ballots due to the pandemic.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., deemed the emergency great enough to call the House back from its annual August recess for the Saturday vote, sandwiched between the Democratic and Republican national political conventions.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said his chamber won’t take up the House bill but that Republicans are open to considering Postal Service funding as part of a COVID-19 relief package.
The White House issued a veto threat, saying the House bill "seeks to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext for placing counterproductive restrictions on USPS’s already limited operational flexibilities." The Postal Service needs an overhaul that will ensure its long-term financial self-sufficiency, not a $25 billion "bailout," the statement of administration policy on the bill argued.
The vote comes four days after Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced he would halt operational changes until after the election. But when Pelosi spoke to DeJoy on Wednesday she said he admitted he’s not planning to replace mail sorting machines and the iconic blue postal boxes that had already been removed or to guarantee adequate overtime for employees needed for timely mail delivery.
In floor remarks Saturday Pelosi said DeJoy hasn't adequately addressed Americans' concerns about the mail slowdown, saying "we cannot have confidence" that he'll prioritize the changes needed to fix the issue.
“This goes to the heart of our country and the connection that the Postal Service throughout our history from the very start has been in tying our country together,” she said.
DeJoy testified Friday before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, acknowledging there have been some delays in mail delivery because of structural changes that should have lasted only for a few days but have now been occurring for weeks. He said the agency is working “feverishly” to stabilize service and delivery.
Since DeJoy took over the Postal Service in June, 700 collection boxes had been removed as part of regular reallocation, he told senators. Mail sorting machines were removed because “they are not needed” and won’t be put back into service, DeJoy added.
The postmaster general said he didn’t want the $25 billion cash infusion Democrats were trying to give his agency, despite that figure having been requested by the Postal Service Board of Governors. The bill earmarks $15 million of the appropriation for the Postal Service’s inspector general.
“If we just throw $25 billion at us this year and we don’t do anything, we’ll be back in two years,” DeJoy told senators.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hear from DeJoy and Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Robert M. Duncan on Monday.
Beyond DeJoy’s commitment
As she began floor debate Saturday, Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., the bill's lead sponsor, released new documents showing the nationwide Postal Service performance from mail possession to delivery, measured against the service expectation, declined as much as 10 percent across all categories in July.
The legislation goes further in delaying operational changes than DeJoy has committed by prohibiting the Postal Service from taking any action that would reduce services or impede timely mail delivery through Jan. 31, 2021 or the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, whichever is later.
The measure also requires the Postal Service to treat all election mail as first-class mail, postmark it with the date of receipt and “to the maximum extent practical” process it the same day it is received.
The rule the House adopted for the bill removed a provision that said any person harmed by the Postal Service failing to adhere to the service standards outlined in the bill could bring civil action against the agency in hopes of garnering more Republican support for the measure.
Pelosi had also kept certain provisions members requested, like election assistance funding, out of the bill to attract GOP votes. Ultimately, 26 Republicans voted for it.
Republican leaders whipped against the bill. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in floor remarks accused Democrats of “wasting precious time spreading Speaker Pelosi’s mailbox myths.”
McCarthy argued the emergency funding in the bill isn’t needed because the Postal Service is projected to be financially solvent through August 2021, that the removal of mailboxes is “routine maintenance” that also occurred under former President Barack Obama’s tenure and that the Postal Service has more than enough capacity to deliver election mail.
With the House returning for the Postal Service vote, dozens of Democrats sent letters and made pleas in phone calls with leadership to vote on additional coronavirus relief, in particular an extension of the $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit that expired last month.
But Pelosi sent a "Dear Colleague" letter Thursday rejecting members' requests to vote on a so-called “skinny” aid bill, as she did in negotiations with the White House, so as not to undermine Democrats’ leverage in getting as much of the aid from their $3.4 trillion bill passed in May into law as possible.
“We must consider their timing and strategic value,” Pelosi said. “They cannot come at the expense of addressing the priorities of the Heroes Act — particularly support for our heroes in state and local government and education, who are in crisis.”
Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.