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Democrats move to pass $25 billion rescue for Postal Service

The House gathered for a rare Saturday session to pass a $ 25 billion emergency funding bill for the U.S. Postal Service, as Democrats accused the postmaster general of trying to sabotage the delivery of mail-in ballots ahead of the November election to boost President Donald Trump.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump ally and GOP donor, has vehemently denied the charges. But Democrats say recent operational changes that have slowed mail delivery in some areas could disenfranchise the millions of Americans who are expected to vote by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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“We will pass the bill and it will be in a bipartisan way, and then we will send it to the Senate,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Saturday, brushing off GOP criticism of the measure. “They’ll be hearing from their constituents because this hits home.”

In addition to the $ 25 billion funding infusion, Democrats’ bill would force the Postal Service to halt the cost-cutting measures championed by DeJoy, which have led to the shutdown of mail-sorting machines and curbed overtime pay for employees. The bill would also require the Postal Service to prioritize election mail as “first-class,” ensuring a speedy delivery of mail-in ballots.

“We want the Postmaster General to undo the damage he has already done, put back the sorting machines and mailboxes he has already removed and prioritize official election mail as First-Class mail, as it previously was,” House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said Friday. “Every member of Congress should support this bill.”

The Oversight panel released a five-page document Saturday showing steep declines in mail processing and delivery across the board, beginning in early July. The data was part of a briefing prepared for DeJoy last week, according to the committee, and rebuts Republican assertions that Democrats are “conspiracy theorists” falsely claiming the existence of significant mail backlogs across the country.

The measure is unlikely to be taken up in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Republicans have repeatedly dismissed Democrats’ efforts as political and unnecessary. The White House has also threatened to veto the bill.

“This is a joke,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), arguing against the bill Saturday. “No legislation is going to happen because my friends aren’t serious about legislation. No money is going to get to the Post Office because it can’t pass the Senate.”

House GOP leadership formally whipped against the legislation, but some Republicans, like New York Rep. John Katko announced they would be breaking with the party to back the bill. GOP Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey are also co-sponsoring the bill.

“Slowing of these services would have a disastrous impact on the lives of many Americans. Now is not the time to jeopardize USPS operations or delay services,” Katko, who faces a competitive race for reelection this fall, wrote in a statement ahead of the vote.

Trump has repeatedly railed against the Postal Service and mail-in voting, claiming without any evidence that the process is ripe for fraud. Still, DeJoy, facing immense political pressure, said he would back off some of his planned organizational changes earlier this week and would revisit the ideas after the election to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Pelosi and other top Democrats rejected DeJoy’s announcement as “insufficient,” saying he didn’t address the current changes that are significantly hampering delivery of everything from prescription medicine to Social Security payments for seniors.

The Democrats’ push to shore up the Postal Service comes as congressional leaders remain at a standstill over how to take broader action to address a pandemic that has killed nearly 175,000 Americans and continues to force tens of millions to rely on unemployment benefits after losing their jobs.

Meanwhile, popular relief programs — including extra federal unemployment aid and small-business grants — have lapsed since the start of August, with frustration mounting on both sides and partisan finger-pointing only intensifying across the Capitol. Apart from the House’s vote on Saturday, both chambers remain on August recess until mid-September and there is little hope a deal can be reached before then.

“People are really at a breaking point,” said Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), whose Las Vegas-area district has been devastated by the virus. “We have Senate Republicans who, for whatever reason, have chosen not to do their job that they were elected to do. That part is frustrating, but I can’t get frustrated because I know in the meantime, my constituents are depending on me.”

Dozens of House Democrats this week made urgent appeals to Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to restart talks, sending a slew of letters on the concerns they’re hearing back home about inaction.

But Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and White House negotiators, led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, have not spoken in person for weeks. Democrats say they have no plans to do so until Republicans agree to spend at least $ 2 trillion on a relief package.

House Democrats passed their own $ 3.4 trillion bill in May, while the Senate GOP’s proposal is roughly $ 1 trillion — a stark sign of how far apart the parties started out in talks to help the nation’s roughly 30 million unemployed, cash-strapped local governments and Americans desperate for a second round of stimulus checks.

With negotiations stalled, Senate Republicans signaled they’d move to a “skinny” coronavirus relief bill, which would include $ 10 billion for the Postal Service in addition to funding for federal unemployment benefits and the small business Paycheck Protection Program. The proposal — which Democrats have already rejected as far short of what’s needed — could be attached to a temporary funding bill to keep the government open past a Sept. 30 deadline.

Democrats also debated internally this week over whether to take up additional economic recovery legislation when the House returned for this weekend’s session and hundreds of lawmakers were already returning to the Capitol for a single day in the middle of August recess.

Many Democrats, particularly those in swing districts, said it would help assuage anxieties back home. But the idea got mixed reviews within the caucus, and Pelosi and her team eventually nixed the discussion on a private leadership call Thursday night amid opposition from some labor groups.

The focus on Saturday, instead, will be the embattled Postal Service, which is facing intense scrutiny from Congress. Postmaster DeJoy testified before a Senate panel on Friday, where he did little to appease Democrats who grilled him about mail delays and his own support for mail-in voting.

DeJoy called Democrats’ charges of voter suppression “false and unfair” and defended his cost-cutting proposals as necessary to ensure the long-term viability of the Postal Service. DeJoy pledged that the Postal Service will prioritize election-related mail in the coming months and voiced support for voting by mail in a break with Trump.

“I think the American public should be able to vote by mail,” DeJoy said during the three-hour hearing, noting he, too, relies on a mail-in ballot.

But Pelosi dismissed DeJoy’s comments on Saturday, saying her recent conversations with him have been “unsatisfactory” and his promises are meaningless without federal law to enforce them.

“His comments are one thing, his actions will be another. And that’s why we have this legislation,” Pelosi said.

At the GOP-led Senate panel, DeJoy was on relatively friendly terrain. He’s likely to face a tougher reception from Democrats on Monday in a highly anticipated appearance before the House Oversight Committee.


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