A Democratic plan to provide $25 billion in aid for the U.S. Postal Service and block cost-cutting and service changes as it prepares to handle millions of mail-in ballots this fall passed the U.S. House with bipartisan support Saturday.
But two western Missouri Republican representatives were not on board.
Rep. Billy Long, whose district covers Springfield and most of the surrounding region, and Rep. Vicky Hartzler, whose 24-county district covers parts of Audrain and Randolph counties and all of Boone, Cooper, Moniteau and Howard counties in central Missouri, both voted no as the bill passed 257-150.
Democrats framed the idea as a necessary intervention to protect a vital service struggling with delays in delivering medicines, checks and baby chicks this summer after a new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, started ratcheting back some services to deal with a budget deficit.
They also cast it as a bulwark against President Trump’s efforts to handicap mail-in voting set to increase amid the pandemic this fall.
“This is not a partisan issue,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the bill sponsor, said Saturday. “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.”
More than two dozen Republicans agreed and voted with Democrats, most of them members in tight races this fall or representatives of rural districts especially reliant on the Postal Service.
Rep. Ann Wagner, who represents the St. Louis suburbs and is trying to fend off a challenge from Democratic State Sen. Jill Schupp, was one of them. Rep. Sam Graves, who represents a broad swath of rural northern Missouri, was another.
But President Trump, who has opposed funding for the Postal Service as a way to block mail-in voting efforts he has falsely described as a front for fraud, pushed against the idea, calling it a “money-wasting HOAX” in a tweet.
Democrats released some of the Postal Service's own statistics documenting this summer’s service slowdown to rebut claims that there’s no real problem.
But Republican leadership took the same tack as the president, telling members to vote against a bill they said was driven by "conspiracy theories."
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the top Republican on the House oversight committee looking into the Postal Service matter, also criticized the bill on policy grounds.
He said it would simultaneously “bail out” the Postal Service” while “hamstringing” it from dealing with underlying issues.
The agency, which has not taken federal funding since 1970 and is supposed to pay for itself by selling stamps and other postal services, has struggled to break even in recent years thanks to plunging mail volume in the internet age and an unusual requirement that it pre-pay retiree health benefits.
Danny Jativa, a spokesman for Hartzler, said Monday his boss had many of the same complaints and noted that Hartzler co-sponsored a bill to lift the requirement to pre-pay retiree health benefits to help out.
“Instead of playing election time politics," Jativa wrote, "Rep. Hartzler is calling on (Democratic) Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and all her congressional colleagues to work with the Postmaster General and President Trump to ensure the Postal Service is self-sustainable and financially solvent so it can continue to provide important services to Missouri’s communities."
Lindsey Simmons, Hartzler’s Democratic opponent in November, said in a news release that the bill was a nonpartisan effort to make sure mail is delivered and postal employees are paid for overtime.
"Maintaining the integrity of the U.S. Postal Service is not a partisan issue,“ Simmons said.
Simmons tied Hartzler’s vote to donations she has received from political action committees associated with the United Parcel Service. DeJoy divested himself of large holdings in UPS and Amazon, a major postal customer, when he was appointed.
"When people like Vicky Hartzler allow corporate donors to influence her decision-making, she abandons her constituents and her conscience,“ Simmons said in teh release.
DeJoy, the new postmaster general, has cast his cuts as an attempt to do just that.
He announced last week he would temporarily suspend changes until after the November election to "avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, but the Washington Post reported Thursday he's considering reductions in service standards and price increases after Nov. 3.
Neither Long nor a spokeswoman responded to multiple requests for comment for this story.
It was not immediately clear Tuesday where the bill will go. Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who leads the Republican Senate, told the Louisville Courier-Journal last week he doubted such a plan could pass his chamber on its own.
He said the interest in helping the Postal Service could help restart negotiations on a larger coronavirus relief bill stalled for months, though.
It was not immediately clear whether Democrats felt the same way.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have been pushing for trillions more dollars in aid than their Republican counterparts have been willing to offer in recent weeks and have so far declined to formally take up anything aside from the $3.4 trillion proposal the House passed in May.
Rudi Keller of the Columbia Daily Tribune contributed to this report.