The U.S. House will vote in a rare Saturday session on a bill aimed at reversing service changes at the U.S. Postal Service that Democrats allege could harm the ability of Americans to vote by mail in the November presidential election.
The vote comes as Democrats say hard data has emerged about recent mail delivery delays that back up many anecdotal complaints and media reports over the past month.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the House back into session in the middle of its August recess in response to demands from rank-and-file Democrats, who say their constituents are experiencing long delivery delays in the wake of changes instituted by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a donor to President Donald Trump, who has been on the job since June.
But it's unlikely the passage of the bill will have any impact on the post office operations. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated the Senate wouldn't be taking up the House bill and the White House threatened to veto it.
In a press conference on Saturday, Pelosi drew a distinction between the Postal Service as a "service," similar to other parts of the government, and as a "business." Criticisms that the service loses money are off-base, she said.
The legislation before the House, H.R. 8015, is sponsored by Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney of New York and it would roll back any changes made since January while providing $25 billion in new funding to the USPS, an independent federal agency.
Maloney said Saturday that hard data from the Postal Service about recent mail delivery times confirms that widely-reported constituent complaints are valid. The data shows a decline in performance since early July.
"There new documents that show the delays we have all heard about are far worse than previous expected," said Maloney. "It makes absolutely no sense to implement these dramatic changes in the middle of a pandemic less than three months before an election."
Pelosi said she hopes the bill will pass with bipartisan support, and that lawmakers of both parties are hearing from their voters about recent disruptions to mail deliveries.
"Public sentiment is everything. They will be hearing from their constituents," Pelosi said, noting the impact on delivery of medications and other important mail, as well as the vote-by-mail situation.
The vote on the postal bill comes as Congress remains stalled on efforts to provide for stimulus to the economy, which has been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic. Economists have warned that with earlier relief having largely run out, the country risks sinking back into recession without additional support.
There were no signs that Pelosi would be meeting with White House negotiators to revive the stalled talks while she's back in Washington.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Saturday on Twitter that Democrats should pass "relief for small businesses and unemployment assistance ALONG with postal funding." Pelosi said Meadow's list was "deficient."
DeJoy has pledged to freeze changes, which had sparked the allegations from Democrats of election interference. At a hearing Friday of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, DeJoy said suggestions that post office cutbacks were aimed at thwarting voting by mail were "outrageous." He said he's never discussed specific policies with Trump or other senior members of the administration.
"There has been no changes to any policies with regard to election mail," DeJoy told the panel. "The Postal Service is fully capable and committed to delivering the nation's election mail fully and on time."
Representative Gerry Connolly, Democrat of Virginia, said Saturday on CNN that "much more specific assurances" are needed from DeJoy, including a pledge to be "flexible" on paying overtime to Postal Service workers.
Trump has repeatedly attacked expanded use of mail-in ballots, claiming with out evidence that it risks vote fraud and an endless delay of results. On Friday he said voting by mail "will be a tremendous embarrassment for our country, it will go on forever and you will never know who won."
In a statement Friday, the Office of Management and Budget called the bill "an overreaction to sensationalized media reports that have made evidence-free accusations that USPS has undertaken reforms to achieve political rather than operational objectives."
House Oversight Ranking member James Comer of Kentucky said that the Democrats have invented a false "conspiracy theory" about the USPS, delays and the election for "political purposes."
"Democrats are acting like any mail delays are new and orchestrated by Postmaster DeJoy," he said. "I have been hearing about Postal Service delays for years." until August 2021.
Pelosi and other Democrats said that DeJoy's suspension of Postal Service cutbacks before the election isn't enough because it doesn't address cuts to overtime already implemented and the removal of mail collection boxes and hundreds of mail sorting machines.
In a bid for at least some Republican support. Democrats agreed at the last minute to remove a provision allowing private lawsuits against the Postal Service.
Endangered New York incumbent Republican John Katko on Friday announced he would be voting for 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," he said in a statement.
Other Republicans who had previously supported new funding for USPS came out against the bill however, and Republican leaders say Democrats have fostered a "conspiracy theory" that exaggerates the USPS delays.
Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole said the complete freezing of service changes at the January 2020 level would "ultimately make it harder to improve operations and ensure that the Postal Service is set on a steady course for the future."
Republicans note that USPS has chalked up $77.8 billion in net losses over 13 years after Congress required it to pre-fund future retiree health benefits. The agency has sought legislation to reverse that requirement and DeJoy has said that after the election he would be pursuing expansive changes to address the balance sheet.
DeJoy said that even though the USPS Board has called for $25 billion in funds earlier this year, the agency needs to implement cost-cutting in conjunction with such aid.
"If we just throw $25 billion at us this year and we don't do anything, we'll be back in two years," DeJoy said Friday.
The House Oversight Committee is scheduled to question DeJoy on Monday along with Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Robert Duncan.