WASHINGTON — The House is expected to vote on a bill Saturday that would reverse recent changes in U.S. Postal Service operations and send $25 billion in emergency funds to shore up the agency ahead of the November election when many voters are expected to cast mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Saturday that “we will pass the bill and it will be in a bipartisan way today and then we will send it to the Senate.”
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., the chairman of the rules committee, opened debate on the rare Saturday session by telling his colleagues “we are here today because our democracy is being eroded by this administration.”
He argued President Donald Trump is trying to halt mail-in ballots, afraid that so many Americans will vote he could lose the White House.
But Republicans countered that complaints about mail delivery disruptions are overblown, and no emergency funding is needed right now.
“Do we need that money? Absolutely no,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “It’s a silly, silly bill.”
The daylong Saturday session comes as an uproar over mail interference puts the Postal Service at the center of the nation’s tumultuous election year, with Americans rallying around one of the nation’s oldest and more popular institutions.
“Well, I’m gonna vote yes, I’ve been a big supporter of our Postal Service,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill. “I do believe that during this pandemic with the expected increase in mail-in voting, that they do need funding.”
Still, Davis called Democrats’ complaints “a conspiracy theory” and said that the Postal Service was doing “a great job.”
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, a Trump ally, 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.
The Postal Service is “under attack,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the chair of the Oversight Committee and the bill’s author, in the Democrats’ weekly address.
Maloney released on Saturday afternoon new internal Postal Service documents that show DeJoy was notified of nationwide delays over the last two months due to the operational changes he implemented.
“To those who still claim there are ‘no delays’ and that these reports are just ‘conspiracy theories,’ I hope this new data causes them to re-think their position and support our urgent legislation today,” Maloney said in a statement.
Democrats and voting rights experts have warned that the Postal Service does not have the resources it needs to handle the onslaught of election mail during the pandemic crisis.
The bill being considered would reverse the cuts and provide funds to the agency. With the majority, Democrats are expected to easily pass the legislation.
But Republicans are unlikely to sign on, and the bill is certain to stall in the GOP-held Senate.
In a memo to House Republicans, leaders derided the legislation as a postal “conspiracy theory” act.
At the White House, Trump has said he wants to block agency 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.
Hundreds of lawmakers are returning to Washington for the weekend session, but dozens will cast votes by proxy under House rules that allow them to stay away during the COVID-19 crisis.
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 selected DeJoy to take the job as postmaster general. A major GOP 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 changes to have the agency run 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” over 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.