The legislation would reverse budget cuts, increase funding to the Postal Service to deal with a mail-in ballot surge.
The Democratic-led US House of Representatives voted on Saturday to provide the cash-strapped Postal Service with $25bn and to block policy changes that have stirred concerns about mail-in voting in advance of the November 3 election.
The chamber passed the emergency bill, dubbed the “Delivering for America Act”, on Saturday during a rare Saturday session called by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the congressional August recess. The bill passed 257 to 150.
Twenty-six Republicans broke party ranks and voted for the bill.
The legislation would undo any recent changes to operations that may slow the Postal Service’s mail delivery, provide an infusion of cash for the agency to deal with the extra workload during the election and the continuing coronavirus outbreak, and require all ballots be treated as first-class mail.
It would also prevent Postmaster General Louis DeJoy from making any operational changes to the agency until after next January or the end of the coronavirus health emergency, whichever comes later.
The bill is unlikely to be taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate and the White House Office of Management and Budget said it strongly opposes the measure and would recommend President Donald Trump veto it.
Trump has repeatedly denounced mail-in voting, which is expected to surge due to the coronavirus pandemic, as a possible source of fraud, despite a dearth of evidence supporting that claim.
Democrats, meanwhile, have accused Trump of trying to undermine the Postal Service for political gain and DeJoy, a Trump donor who was selected to the position by a board of governors appointed by Trump, of making financial cuts and policy changes that will slow the delivery of mail-in ballots.
Last week, the Postal Service reportedly warned 46 of the 50 US states, as well as the District of Columbia, that mail-in ballots may not arrive in time under the states’ current deadlines for sending the ballots.
DeJoy has since suspended the financial cuts and assured a Senate committee on Friday that the Postal Service would deliver ballots “securely and on time”, however, he said he would not restore the already-made cuts to mailboxes and sorting equipment.
Democrats cast themselves in Saturday’s debate as defenders of a public that relies on the Postal Service for vital deliveries including prescription drugs.
“The American people do not want anyone messing with the Post Office. They certainly do not want it to be politicised. They just want their mail, they want their medicines and they want their mail-in ballots delivered in a timely way. And that is exactly what our bill does,” said Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney, who authored the legislation.
Maloney also released internal Postal Service documents that showed more dramatic declines in deliveries arriving on time than legislators had previously been told.
Republicans, meanwhile, countered that complaints about mail delivery disruptions were overblown, and no emergency funding is currently needed.
“Do we need that money? Absolutely, no,” said Representative Tom Cole. “It’s a silly, silly bill.”
In a memo to House Republicans, party leaders derided the legislation as a postal “conspiracy theory” act.
While the bill is expected to languish in the Senate, Republican leader Mitch McConnell is eyeing a $10bn postal rescue as part of the next COVID-19 relief package. While Trump has said he wants to block emergency funding for the agency, the White House has said it would be open to more postal funding as part of a broader bill.
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 healthcare benefits.
Some have called for the agency to be run more like a private company, while defenders say the agency is a public service that should not be run as a money-making endeavour.
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