The Hill has reported that House Republican campaign strategy drove H.R. 2309, the Postal Reform Act, off the legislative track for action prior to the August recess.
The delay would prioritize election-year messaging votes over actions to rescue the Postal Service, which is currently losing $25 million a day and is on track to bleed billions of dollars again this fiscal year.
More recent reporting has indicated that political considerations may have possibly killed any chance that the House of Representatives will act on postal reform at all in this session of Congress.
What will House Do Instead?
Right now the House schedule appears to want to only deal with legislation that will provide a single anti-Obama message each week.
This week the message was their opposition to the Affordable Care Act. By voting for the thirty-third time to repeal the health care reform law, the House Republicans accomplished two things. First, they provided the Washington press corps and more importantly friendly media a ready-made topic that can fill up a good portion of nearly three days of air time to discuss an issue that is popular with Republican voters. Second, they created a resolution that uses the word “Obamacare” which allows them to use the word in official correspondence.
Over the next three weeks, Republicans will focus on legislation that is already in the pipeline to the floor. This includes the following bills:
- H.R. 5856 – Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2013
- H.R. 6020 – Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2012
- H.R. 5973 – Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013
These three appropriations bills all provide opportunities for Republicans to pass legislation of interest to voters who are most likely to vote Republican this fall as well as highlight their political disagreements with President Obama. It’s possible that other bills or resolutions will be added but that depends on external events that would prompt legislation that would have political impact.
Postal Legislation is Not Alone in Being Held up by Political Considerations
The importance of political considerations is not just linked to postal legislation. U.S. Agriculture policy requires reauthorization prior to the end of the fiscal year. Given the Midwestern drought, and the impact that it is likely to have on agricultural businesses and the U.S. food supply, one would think passing a bill to ensure continuation of policies that can deal with the impact of droughts would be a priority. Given that most rural areas are represented by Republican members of Congress, it would seem that Republicans in particular would want to be able to go back to their constituents before the August recess and be able to say that that they have enacted legislation that is critical to their constituents.
However, just like with postal reform, the Senate has passed a farm bill (S.3240, Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012). Even the vote was similar, 64-35 for the farm bill versus 62-37 for postal reform.
The House Agriculture committee has just passed the farm bill, H.R. 6083, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2012 with a 35-11 bipartisan vote. However, Politico has reported that just like postal reform getting a farm bill to the House floor appears unlikely due to political considerations
Much about the Republican legislative schedule this month has had more to do with political messaging than substance. Time constraints would appear to be less a reason for delay of the farm bill than the leadership’s fear that the debate will anger the tea party wing and fracture the GOP conference.
Just like with postal reform Speaker John Boehner is receiving pressure from Senate Republican leaders on agriculture policy, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R- Ga.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kans.) to move a bill quickly. However, while H.R. 2309 has strong support from the Tea Party wing of the Republican House caucus and opposition from Republicans that are less likely to identify with that side of the party, the farm bill’s opposition comes from Tea Party members while support comes from those members that are less ideologically driven.
Could H.R. 2309 Have Passed the House?
The truth is nobody knows. In an e-mail sent to the Federal Times, Congressman Dennis Ross’s spokesman Fred Piccolo said that it appeared that the votes were there to pass H.R. 2309. However, the legislative language of a manager’s amendment that would garner the necessary Republican votes has not been made public. So there is little to judge whether sufficient changes to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee passed bill have been made to win over Republicans that have expressed objections to what the Committee passed.
The Politics of Default
The Postal Service now appears likely to default on a $5.5 billion payment into a health benefits fund on August 1. The default will occur during the last week that that the House of Representatives and Senate are in Washington. As such, Representatives Darrell Issa and Dennis Ross will both be available to argue that the default represents not only a failure of postal management but also the Obama administration. Senators Tom Carper and Joe Lieberman and Representatives Elijah Cummings, and Gerald Connelley who support either S.1789 or alternative approaches will likely focus more narrowly on the failure of the House to take action on any bill as another illustration of how broken the legislative process is in this hyper partisan environment.
It’s my sense that Republicans that support H.R. 2309 and oppose the Senate approach have a better chance to control the dialog about the impact of USPS default and who is to blame during that first week in August. My hunch is that Republican leadership in the House agrees with me. They more than likely see a Postal Service default as politically advantageous as it creates an opportunity to repeat their message that Obama cannot manage the federal government efficiently and that any government intervention in the economy is hurting the recovery.
Passage of any USPS reform bill eliminates this potentially favorable “news event” and would therefore seem to not be in the interest of Republicans trying to elect
George Romney President, or retain control of the House of Representatives.
To illustrate the advantages Republicans have in messaging when the Postal Service defaults compare two recent statements from Congressman Darrell Issa and Senator Tom Carper.
In a letter to the Postal Service’s Board of Governors, Congressman Issa complained that the Postal Service has not moved fast enough to cut services, facilities, and eliminate door-to-door delivery in order to cut costs. In the statement he lays the groundwork for blaming the upcoming default on postal management.
Contrast this with statements that Senator Tom Carper has made following press reports that the House will not act on Postal reform any time soon.
Right now, what we’re attempting to do is embarrass the House. Hopefully, at some point they can find some time in their schedule to do something important.
Comparing these two statements, Congressman Darrell Issa’s approach appears more aggressive and more likely to have a political impact on both the election for President and a new House of Representatives. If true, the Postal Service will then be added to the set of Republican talking points further weakening the possibility that any postal reform legislation passes in this Congress.