What Are The Next Steps In The Battle Over The Postal Service?

Democrats have a unique opportunity to strike quickly, score political points, and also do some good…

Rural delivery in Missouri in 1940. (From the Postal Service’s own website)

First of all, Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs to call the House back into session. ASAP. (Hey, we just saw now she is!) We realize every single member of the House is up for re-election and they need to campaign. But the best campaigning they can do right now is be present on Capitol Hill. Do hearings; don’t drop the subject. One good move: the House Committee on Oversight, headed by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D) NY, just called for Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to testify same week as what’s left of the Republican National Convention. (DeJoy was originally in charge of raising money for that event.) The Chair of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, who is the former head of the Republican National Committee (and also appointed by President Trump), is also invited to join.

But most importantly, maybe, the House has gotta pass a bill. A bill that’s only aimed at shoring up the Postal Service. Make it clear this is not a bill about elections and mail-in ballots exclusively, but really about protecting a sacred American institution. (And one that we’ve argued before is extraordinarily important even to many Trump supporters.)

Because really, we shouldn’t have to be talking about finding safe ways to vote that don’t involve the mail. (Even though there are many alternatives that will do just fine.) We should be talking about safeguarding the mail so that it’s OK to vote that way. And that means not just stopping removing mail boxes and sorting machines (as the White House now pledges–even though it’s not at all supposed to be in control of that), but actually putting things back to the way they were before. Which is the thrust of the bill being considered by the Democratically controlled House.

One thing of course that’s interesting, is the Postal Service is not even close to fully supported by tax dollars, nor is it meant to be. It is a public service. Taxpayers support it primarily by using and paying for its services, not by paying taxes for it to exist in order to provide services.

Now, we’ve read quite a few things recently, like this in The Atlantic, about how the post office is actually well funded enough already to withstand and handle a lot of mail-in ballots in this election. And it’s true that the threat has less to do with the post office’s ability to deal with a huge surge in letters around Election Day, and more to do with changes in rules about how and when any overabundance of mail can be delivered. After all, even if every single American of voting age cast their ballot by mail, it would account for only about 2/10ths of 1% of total Postal Service volume for the year. That stat is a little misleading maybe, since it lumps all types of delivery together, while letters and parcels are actually handled very differently. But you get the idea…

And parcels and packages is where business for the Postal Service is currently booming (whether or not they are being properly compensated or not). Letter processing is what would boom if there are suddenly a lot more mail-in ballots (although that would be made at least a little easier by the fact that a lot of that volume would be getting delivered to one address in each city or county, or would actually be getting fetched from a P.O. Box.)

Now that we’ve said all that: none of that matters right now. Because Trump has set up his own reality. Which is that without more funds, the Postal Service can’t do mail-in voting, and also, in general, it should not exist in its current form and services should be slashed and privatized and maybe it shouldn’t be delivering to so many rural areas where it can’t make a profit (where as we’ve written previously about 1 in 10 Americans live; among them a fair numbers of seniors and Veterans who rely on rural delivery routes for things like prescription medication.)

And for once, it will benefit Democrats to just accept that. Let Trump pay the price for getting at least temporarily mired in the deep pile of deep doo-doo he very deliberately waded into.

Don’t let him make excuses. Don’t lift him out.

So back to Capitol Hill: even if the House does pass a “USPS protection bill” (or “Delivering for America Act” as they’re calling it), what are the chances the Republican controlled Senate will pass it? Or even come back into session? Especially as it would probably coincide with what remains of the Republican National Convention.

Again, let the Senate show where they’re coming from too. And whether they’re willing to break from the President. Interesting thing about this, potentially, is Conservatives have been wanting to privatize the Postal Service for years. So that isn’t really a “Trump thing”. At the same time, deciding to do it in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of an election year, and at least in small part due to the fact that the President wants to punish Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for owning the Washington Post, does make it a Trump “own” at this point in time. So the President’s peculiar timing in launching this particular attack (which to toot our own horn a little, we warned about back in April), could actually do in plans many Republicans have had in mind anyway, for years if not decades.

Once a stand alone Postal Service bill passes in the House, what’s Senate Majority Mitch McConnell likely to do with it? In most cases he’d just do nothing and let it die. But he can’t. So probably he’d try to use it to revive discussions on a broader Coronavirus rescue plan, which is also needed, but would muddle this issue—which is singularly beneficial to Democrats right now—up. And that’d be the whole point. So it’s gotta stay separate, and in some ways that’s where the public comes in. Immense pressure must be brought to bear from voters all across the country to get their Senators to pass it and not bollocks it up by adding a bunch of other stuff on. (Congress can and should work on other kinds of relief simultaneously and in parallel, but they shouldn’t be mushed together.)

Then Trump would have to sign it (or not). But either way, if it’s a “clean” bill, it’d make him look weak. Because either he’d be seen as attacking a huge swath of the American population (including many of his supporters), or signing something that puts him in direct contradiction with his own stated words and objectives.

And maybe nothing would be a more shining example of how Trump really doesn’t believe in anything except getting himself re-elected. And has totally lost any appearance of having a consistent, central message as a result.

Or more simply, that the would-be Emperor really is wearing no clothes.