The House of Representatives kicked off heated debate Saturday morning over a $25 billion funding bill for the United States Postal Service (USPS) that Democrats say is needed to prevent President Trump from trying to "destroy" the Post Office before the 2020 mail-in election, while Republicans dismissed this "conspiracy theory" and blasted Democrats for staging a purely political vote between two presidential conventions.
"I am again on the floor of the House of Representatives watching a cartoon," said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. "About the only outcome this debate is going to have today is one of entertainment value — nothing substantive."
Democrats, however, framed the rare Saturday session as a "five-alarm fire" after Postmaster General Louis DeJoy started operational and equipment changes that have slowed down mail delivery for their constituents. Meanwhile, Trump continues to attack mail-in voting in advance of an election that will rely increasingly on ballots sent through the Post Office due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"This is an emergency," said Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass. "And on top of that, we have a president who does not want every vote counted in the upcoming election because he believes that if we do count every vote he will lose. We're in the middle of a pandemic. More and more people are going to be voting by mail."
“This president is on a warpath to destroy the postal service,” added Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis.
But Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., said Democrats are using the USPS to gin up "a new Trump conspiracy theory" even though the president doesn't control the Postmaster General.
"Seems insane, but all too typical for the Trump-hating Democrats," Lesko said.
The House bill, the Delivering for America Act, would infuse the post office with $25 billion, reverse the service changes that DeJoy enacted and prevent the USPS from taking any measures that could slow down the mail until after the coronavirus pandemic or Jan. 31, 2021 — whichever is later.
The White House already threatened a veto of the bill saying the "USPS does not need a $25 billion bailout."
The House GOP has pushed a "no" vote and an aide said they don't expect to lose a large amount of Republicans on the final vote later Saturday.
Republicans have downplayed the concerns of service delays at the Postal Office and said DeJoy is taking prudent operational steps at the budget-challenged Post Office. They said if Democrats really wanted to do something meaningful, they would include a bipartisan vote on some coronavirus relief measures Saturday.
Democrats point to the $3 trillion HEROES Act they passed in May and have been waiting since then for the Republican Senate to act on a new stimulus bill. That coronavirus measure also included postal funding that Republicans rejected.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., called the USPS vote a "theatrical moment" between the Democratic and GOP conventions that has no chance of becoming law.
He dubbed the proposal "silly" and a "joke" and questioned why Democrats want to give $25 billion to DeJoy, when they've characterized the new postmaster general as a GOP megadonor out to do Trump's bidding.
"We're going to hear a lot of terrible things about him [DeJoy], but at the end of the day, my [Democratic] friends are going to vote to give him $25 billion," Cole said. "And they're going to do it in a bill that has no reforms and it just says you can't change anything. Now, how smart is that?"
"Do we need that money? Absolutely not," Cole said.
Amid growing concerns over mail delays, restrictions on overtime and removal of equipment, DeJoy this week announced he would delay further changes to operations until after the election.
"To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded," DeJoy said in a statement Tuesday. On Friday, he sought to reassure lawmakers in the Senate that election ballots will be counted if received within seven days of the election while acknowledging a "dip in the level of service."
But Democrats say they want legislation to reverse the policy changes, such as restoring sorting machines that were removed and make it illegal for USPS to reduce services.
The House legislation would prohibit reducing service hours at postal facilities, decommissioning mail sorting machines and removing community mailboxes. The bill would also bar any limits on overtime pay, hiring freezes, delaying mail service and treating election mail as anything less than first-class mail.
The USPS legislation isn't expected to get a vote in the GOP-led Senate and Trump is expected to veto it if it makes it to his desk.
"We will pass the bill and it will be in a bipartisan way today," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Saturday. "And then we will send it to the Senate. … Public sentiment is everything. They'll be hearing from their constituents because this hits home. Not receiving your mail in a timely fashion hits home. Not receiving your prescriptions, especially for our veterans, hits home in a way that is harmful to our country."