Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday urged Congress to act immediately to stop President Donald Trump from using the novel coronavirus outbreak “as an opportunity to bankrupt and privatize the Postal Service,” a longstanding goal of the conservative movement.
“Now, more than ever, we need a strong and vibrant postal system to deliver mail 6-days a week,” tweeted Sanders, a senator from Vermont. “Congress must act now to save it.”
Sanders’ call comes as the Postal Service is warning that it will completely run out of cash within the next several months if Congress doesn’t act swiftly to provide relief. The USPS has been hit hard by the sharp decline in mail volume caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Postmaster General Megan Brennan told the House Oversight and Reform Committee in a briefing Thursday.
“At a time when America needs the Postal Service more than ever,” Brennan said, “the reason we are so needed is having a devastating effect on our business.”
The Postal Service is calling on Congress to provide $75 billion in cash, grants, and loans, but President Donald Trump is standing in the way of any relief funding for USPS.
As the Washington Post reported Saturday, the president “threatened to veto the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, if the legislation contained any money directed to bail out the postal agency.”
“We told them very clearly that the president was not going to sign the bill if [money for the Postal Service] was in it,” an anonymous Trump administration official told the Post. “I don’t know if we used the v-bomb, but the president was not going to sign it, and we told them that.”
During a press briefing last week, Trump went on a falsehood-filled tirade against the Postal Service and said the independent executive branch agency should simply “raise prices” by “a lot.”
Ronnie Stutts, president of the National Rural Letter Carriers Association, told Yahoo News Sunday that he believes Trump’s attacks on USPS are part of an effort to “privatize Postal Service.”
“Everything was going good with this until they got to the White House,” Stutts said of the congressional push for USPS funding in the previous stimulus package. “There’s no two ways about it. And when it got there, he killed it. They said no. He was not going to give us any money.”
Analysts argue that the Postal Service’s financial crisis was manufactured by Congress, which in 2006 passed legislation requiring USPS to prefund its retirees’ health benefits through the year 2056.
As the New York Times reported last week, “the Postal Service has not taken federal funding in decades, running instead off revenue raised from stamps and other postal products. But since the 2008 financial crisis, it has struggled to stay in the black, weighed down largely by a congressional mandate to prefund its retirement benefits programs.”
“The agency has stopped making those payments in recent years, running up billions of dollars in debt, while its mail delivery business has otherwise remained profitable,” the Times noted. “Lawmakers in both parties have proposed overhauls to the service along the way, but none have taken hold.”
In February, the House of Representatives passed legislation authored by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) that would repeal the prefunding mandate. The bill stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who has been outspoken in his criticism of Trump’s refusal to assist the Postal Service, warned in a tweet Friday that “a progressive response to this pandemic is not possible without USPS,” pointing to proposals such as nationwide vote-by-mail, more direct cash payments, and prescription drug deliveries to the vulnerable.
“This isn’t just another squabble,” said Connolly. “This is at the core of all we’ve fought for.”