US House to vote on US$25 billion postal infusion, mail-in ballot safeguards

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WASHINGTON – US House of Representatives Democrats unveiled on Wednesday (Aug 19) legislation that would require same-day processing for mail-in ballots and give the cash-strapped Postal Service a US$25 billion (S$34 billion) infusion while erasing changes pursued by the agency’s new leader, an ally of President Donald Trump.

The Democratic-led House is scheduled to vote on the legislation on Saturday, though there is little chance for passage in the Republican-led Senate.

The would prevent the Postal Service from implementing policies to alter service levels that were in effect at the beginning of this year.

Democrats and other critics have accused the Republican president of trying to impair the Postal Service to suppress mail-in voting as he trails Democratic challenger Joe Biden in opinion polls ahead of the Nov 3 election.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the Postal Service has enough cash on hand, including a US$10 billion line of credit approved by Congress earlier this year.

McEnany also said the White House is “open” to supporting US$25 billion in funding for the US Postal Service but wants aid for Americans unemployed because of the coronavirus pandemic included.

Congressional Democrats, Republican lawmakers and the White House have been at an impasse in talks over the latest pandemic relief legislation.

Under intense criticism, Postmaster-General Louis DeJoy announced on Tuesday that he would put on hold until after the election cost-cutting moves at the Postal Service that Democratic lawmakers and state attorneys-general argued could imperil mail-in voting.

DeJoy said he suspended all “operational initiatives” through Election Day to “avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”

DeJoy, who has been a major political donor to Trump, assumed the job in June.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement released after she spoke with DeJoy that the suspension “is wholly insufficient and does not reverse damage already wreaked.”

Pelosi said DeJoy “admitted that he had no intention of replacing the sorting machines, blue mailboxes and other key mail infrastructure that have been removed and that plans for adequate overtime, which is for the timely delivery of mail, are not in the works.”

The Postal Service long has faced financial woes with the rise of email and social media, losing US$80 billion since 2007, including US$2.2 billion in the three months ending June 30.

Separately, Senator Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, asked the Postal Service Board of Governors to release all materials related to the selection of DeJoy and for “additional information” regarding the role of Trump and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin in the search and selection process.

The board in May said it reviewed records of more than 200 candidates before narrowing the list to more than 50. The board then interviewed more than a dozen candidates in first round interviews, and invited seven candidates for follow-up interviews.

Trump has repeatedly and without evidence claimed that mail balloting is vulnerable to fraud. Voting by mail is nothing new in the United States, and Trump himself plans to vote by mail in Florida this year.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the White House was not involved in the Postal Service changes. The Treasury Department and the Postal Service did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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