By ABBY LIVINGSTON
The Texas Tribune
WASHINGTON – The U.S. House voted on Saturday to send $25 billion to the U.S. Postal Service and reverse operational changes that have slowed the mail service until at least through the end of the year. All Democratic members of the Texas Delegation, and two Texas Republicans, supported the bill.
In a rare move, members, driven by Democrats who say they are worried that cutbacks in mail services will jeopardize mail-in voting this November, returned to the U.S. Capitol amid summer recess to vote on the legislation.
The legislation would mandate the USPS to return to the operational levels of Jan. 1 and stay in place until the COVID-19 public health crisis ends or Jan. 1, 2021 – whichever comes later. It passed late Saturday afternoon. It is doubtful the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate will take up the legislation.
This bill would block any changes that impede mail delivery services, close post offices, reduce facility hours, eliminate overtime pay to USPS employees and increase the volume of undelivered mail.
About two dozen House Republicans voted with Democrats on the measure. Within the Texas delegation, Republican U.S. Reps. Will Hurd, of Helotes, and Michael McCaul, of Austin, voted with the Democrats. A handful of Texas Republicans were not present for the vote. Similarly, several Texas Democrats did not attend the vote, but they opted to vote-by-proxy – a new rule change from the spring in which a member could designate a colleague to vote on their behalf. This measure came to pass amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hurd called the USPS “vital” on Twitter and added, “They are essential, and, like always, I will continue to support them.”
McCaul similarly tweeted about the need for the post office to deliver medication to seniors and for the importance of service to rural areas.
“I have advocated for USPS funding in past COVID-19 relief legislation and will continue to do so along with funding for other essential services during this pandemic,” he added.
The postal office is the latest pocket of government that has exploded in a political outrage, and the rhetoric on the House floor Saturday afternoon matched that fury.
President Donald Trump told Fox Business News earlier this month that it was his aim to starve the USPS of funding in order to compromise the country’s mail-in voting process ahead of November’s presidential election. Democrats on the House floor pointed to those remarks as the impetus for the emergency vote on the bill Saturday.
The USPS is in its second decade of a major scaling back of employees and operations. Due to the onset of modern technology like email, the post office has had a reduction in demand for first class mail delivery. Postal officials from previous administrations have worked to shrink the size of the mail service while also keeping the aim of fast delivery to remote parts of the country.
Republicans characterized reports of removed mailboxes and sorting machines as part of that process and accused the Democrats of disingenuous attacks on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and Trump.
“Today’s effort is yet another smokescreen, another conspiracy theory foisted upon the American people to distract us from the real problems facing the American people,” said U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Victoria, who serves on the committee that oversees the post office.
Cloud’s remarks echoed other statements from some Texas Republicans who spoke on the floor and issued statements about the vote. Other Republicans described the debate over delayed mail delivery as “a manufactured crisis” and “fear mongering.”
U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Lubbock, tweeted that Democrats were “falsely calling into question the security of our elections to justify a 25 billion dollar bail-out is a dishonest, predatory scam and a political pay-off to their government union bosses,” to which U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, responded with “Amen.”
But Democrats defended their action.
“Over the last couple of hours, I’ve heard my friends on the other side of the aisle say this is not serious,” said U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston. “You know why this is serious? A 176,000 dead Americans from COVID-19 and the projection that there may be another 300,000 dead by Dec. 1.”
“My constituents who are suffering from stage-four cancer need the mail,” she added.
She went on to quote from a letter USPS general counsel Thomas J. Marshall wrote to all 50 states and the District of Columbia warning that the postal service may not be able to meet deadlines for ballots mailed at the last minute.
Other House Democrats relayed constituent stories of delayed mail – including medications – and they released documents they said were prepared within the USPS to brief DeJoy on Aug. 12 that showed a slow down in mail service beginning in mid-July.
This past week, a USPS union leader in San Antonio told reporters and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, that postal officials in Washington ordered local postal employees to hide bags of backed up mail – tens of thousands of pieces dating from as far back as March – from the congressman while he was on a tour of a mail plant.
DeJoy said last week that he would pause plans to change mail services until after the election, but the aim of the bill is to reinstate operations – sorting machines, overtime and mailboxes – that were cut back in recent weeks to where they were at the beginning of the year.
The crux of the partisan dispute over the $25 billion bailout is due the complicated nature of USPS accounting.
House Republican leaders encouraged members to vote against the bill.
DeJoy was scheduled to testify before the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee Monday. Two Texans, Cloud and Roy, serve on that committee.
This article was first published at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/22/usps-congress-house-mail/ by The Texas Tribune.