17.05.2022

US House agrees $25bn for Postal Service amid Trump attacks – but Republicans likely to block

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The House of Representatives has passed a $25bn relief package for the US Postal Service in response to sweeping cuts and operational changes that Democrats fear could harm the organisation’s ability to handle mail voting in crucial November elections.

Legislation from New York congresswoman Carolyn Maloney aims to give what Democrats have argued is a sorely needed injection of cash into the agency.

The Delivering For America Act also aims to prohibit the removal of mail-sorting machines and public mailboxes, halt any changes that have slowed deliveries, and ensure that all election-related mail be prioritised.

But the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, where Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell has refused to bring a standalone bill for the post office. Donald Trump has also threatened to veto the measure.

Democrats have feared that recent cuts have also jeopardised prescription drug deliveries, social security checks, rental and credit card payments and other bills and critically needed mail.

Roughly 180 million voters are eligible to vote by mail through absentee ballots, rather than potentially risk coronavirus infection or transmission by entering a voting precinct on election day this autumn. Millions of Americans already participated in elections using mail-in ballots.

“It makes absolutely no sense to impose these kinds of dangerous cuts in the middle of a pandemic and just months before the elections in November,” Ms Maloney told the House on Saturday. “The American people do not want anyone messing with the post office … They just want their mail, they want their medicines, and they want their mail-in ballots delivered in a timely way.”

The hearing followed a US Senate committee’s grilling of postmaster general Louis DeJoy, a donor to the president’s campaign ,who was appointed to lead the agency in June. He said the USPS would have “no issue” handling election mail and claimed that the agency is “fully capable and committed to delivering the nation’s election mail securely and on-time”.

Several House Republicans cast the legislation as a “smokescreen” to prevent legislation on the GOP’s agenda, and a “manufactured crisis” to “score points” following the 2020 Democratic National Convention to criticise the president, cast as a victim of another “election hoax” not unlike the Democrats’s impeachment.

Republicans also dismissed Democrats’s concerns that prescription drugs to veterans, who rely on the USPS for deliveries, as well as Social Security checks have been delayed.

Indiana congressman Greg Pence, brother of vice president Mike Pence, cast the legislation as a political “sham”, while Republican congressman James Comer of Kentucky said Democrats are promoting “conspiracy theories” and have sought to “simultaneously hamstring and bail out the postal service” by reversing cuts and pumping the agency with unnecessary funds.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee revealed that internal documents from the USPS showed a significant drop in service since the beginning of July, including first-class mail deliveries.

Republicans argued to defer action at least until they hear from the postmaster general at a scheduled House Oversight Committee meeting on Monday.

“You’ve had a hearing – you’ve had a hearing from the American people,” said Democratic congresswoman Maxine Waters, who argued that the USPS is being “sabotaged by a desperate president in order to cheat in the 2020 election”.

The president has repeatedly claimed that vote-by-mail efforts are vulnerable to mass fraud, an assertion that his campaign has not backed with any evidence, according to court documents related to the campaign’s federal lawsuit to block drop-off ballot boxes.

“They want $25bn for the post office,” he told Fox News this month. “They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. Now, in the meantime, they aren’t getting there. But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.”

Mr Trump participates in mail-in voting; he submitted his absentee ballot for Florida’s primary elections through a third party, a practice that many Republicans, including the president, said should be illegal.

Before the vote, the president lashed out on Twitter: “This is all another HOAX by the Democrats to give 25 Billion unneeded dollars for political purposes, without talking about the Universal Mail-In Ballot Scam … that they are trying to pull off in violation of everything that our Country stands for.”

Saturday’s hearing arrived 100 days following House Democrats’ passage of the HEROES Act, which Senate Republicans and the White House have refused to touch. The $3.4 trillion measure included post office funding and efforts to boost voter participation, along with one-time stimulus checks, extended federal unemployment relief, eviction moratoriums and school funding. Republicans have argued for a narrower relief bill.

After House speaker Nancy Pelosi called the House back in session on Saturday, Democrats urged that the body consider passing a coronavirus relief package, following criticism that Congress had adjourned without renewing unemployment payments or halting evictions despite desperate pleas from millions of Americans. The House was not set to return until 14 September.

More than 100 Democrats signed a letter urging congressional leaders to take up additional legislation during Saturday’s emergency session.

Ahead of Saturday’s vote, Ms Pelosi said the USPS is “as American as apple pie, motherhood, baseball, you name it”.

Unmoved by the postmaster general’s claims that service would not be interrupted ahead of November’s election, she called his assurance “wholly insufficient” relative to the “damage already wrecked” by cuts.

Ms Pelosi, who spoke privately with the postmaster general, said that he “frankly admitted that he had no intention of replacing the sorting machines, blue mailboxes and other key mail infrastructure that have been removed and that plans for adequate overtime, which is critical for the timely delivery of mail, are not in the works”.

“Not receiving your mail in a timely fashion hits home,” she said. “Not receiving your prescriptions, especially for our veterans, hits home in a way that is harmful to our country.”

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