WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives passed legislation Saturday to prevent any further changes at the United States Postal Service and to provide $25 billion in funding ahead of an expected surge in mail-in ballots in the November election.
The bill faces an uncertain future in the Republican-led Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told the Louisville Courier-Journal last week that he was doubtful a bill addressing only the Postal Service could pass the Senate.
President Donald Trump, in a tweet Saturday, called the controversy over the Postal Service a “hoax” and told Republican lawmakers to vote against it, but more than two dozen House Republicans joined all Democrats in voting for the bill. It passed by 257-150.
Democrats note that U.S. Postal Service officials have ordered the removal of mail-sorting machines, cut overtime for mail carriers, and made other controversial changes. Critics say that has slowed the delivery of prescription medicines and other items for veterans, seniors and other Americans who rely on the mail service as a lifeline.
The “delays we have all heard about are actually far worse” than the Postal Service had acknowledged, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., sponsor of the pending bill and House Oversight Committee chairwoman, said during Saturday’s debate.
Her office later released documents from the Postal Service showing nationwide delays in mail delivery since the beginning of July, weeks after Louis DeJoy started his tenure as postmaster general. DeJoy, a GOP donor, was appointed to that job in mid-June by the agency’s board of governors.
“The American people do not want anyone messing with the Post Office, and they certainly do not want it politicized,” Maloney said.
The Postal Service declined to comment on the release of documents. A spokesman, David Partenheimer, said the postmaster general looked forward to testifying before the House Oversight Committee on Monday.
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the top Republican on the Oversight Committee said the bill would “simultaneously hamstring and bail out the Postal Service” based on a controversy played up for “political purposes.”
House Republican leaders told members to vote against what they called a “conspiracy theory bill,” but some Republican lawmakers voted for it anyway, like Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., a co-sponsor of the bill. And Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., said in a statement Friday that he would vote for the bill because “now is not the time to jeopardize USPS operations or delay services.”
House Democrats called lawmakers back to Washington from their summer recess for the rare Saturday session. The Senate remains out until after Labor Day, but a Senate panel held a hearing with DeJoy on Friday where he faced intense questioning about recent changes at the Postal Service. DeJoy acknowledged delays in mail delivery but steadfastly denied any political motivations.
Democrats have accused him of trying to undermine mail service to benefit Trump, who has attacked the U.S. Postal Service as a “joke” and claimed, without evidence, that mail-in voting is subject to fraud.
DeJoy said Tuesday that he would suspend some changes at the Postal Service until after the election to avoid the appearance of impropriety, but Democrats said they also wanted him to commit to reversing changes already made.
Congressional Democrats say changes made under DeJoy’s tenure slowed the delivery of mail and potentially threatened the agency’s ability to handle a surge of mail-in ballots in the November election. Many states have expanded voting by mail to reduce crowds on Election Day and provide an alternative to in-person voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Congressional Democrats sent DeJoy a 10-page letter Aug. 14 detailing the changes at the Postal Service they feared could delay the mail.
Among the shifts in service that worried Democrats: a move to stop treating all election mail as first-class – which could mean a delay of up to eight days from prior elections – as well as cutbacks in overtime and a ban on “late” or “extra” delivery trips.
DeJoy said Friday that the Postal Service would commit to treating all election mail as first-class through the election and denied that changes to overtime were made under his authority.
An internal Postal Service document cited by the Democrats warned, “One aspect of these changes that may be difficult for employees is that – temporarily – we may see mail left behind or mail on the workroom floor.”
The Postal Service has warned election officials around the country that not all ballots may be delivered in time to be counted, even if they are requested before state deadlines and mailed back promptly.
Trump has defended his administration’s management of the agency and has said he opposes additional funding for the Postal Service, despite his acknowledgment that service delays threatened the November election. Instead, the president has criticized mail-in voting and argued the Postal Service has long-standing financial problems and needs to be reformed.
Democrats asked for $25 billion in coronavirus stimulus talks to help the Postal Service handle the increase in mail-in ballots, but the stimulus talks have stalled without a deal in sight.
DeJoy told lawmakers Friday that deeper changes were needed at the agency than a $25 billion boost. “If we just took $25 billion this year and we don’t do anything, we’ll be back” in several years, he said, though he added the agency could use “reimbursement” to cover COVID-19-related losses.
Members of the Blue Dog Caucus, a group of moderate Democrats, sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and McConnell Friday asking for both sides to resume stimulus negotiations. “The current stalemate is punishing families and destabilizing our economy,” the lawmakers wrote.
In a letter to Democratic lawmakers on Thursday, Pelosi thanked them for their stimulus proposals but said any other legislation “cannot come at the expense of addressing the priorities of the Heroes Act,” referring to the Democratic economic package passed in May. Pelosi singled out support for state and local governments and schools as priorities, both of which were sticking points with White House negotiators.
Pelosi defended her decision again on Saturday, telling reporters the Postal Service faced an “emergency,”and the bill under consideration has key provisions, such as the reversal of mail sorting machine removals, that were not included in the coronavirus stimulus measure.