The Democratic-led US House of Representatives passed a bill to provide the cash-strapped Postal Service with $25 billion and block policy changes that have stirred concerns about mail-in balloting ahead of the 3 November election.
Under restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus, the slow process of voting got under way after more than three hours of debate, during a rare Saturday session called by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the middle of the congressional August recess, Reuters reports.
The Democratic bill, which passed on Saturday despite opposition from Republicans, would provide $25bn in aid for the USPS and prioritise election mail as “first class”, to ensure ballots arrive in time to be counted in an election in which the coronavirus pandemic will cast a shadow over in-person voting.
But it is unlikely to be taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The White House strongly opposes the legislation and has said it would recommend that president Donald Trump veto the measure.
With mail-in voting expected to surge during the coronavirus pandemic, Trump has alarmed Democrats by repeatedly denouncing mail-in ballots as a possible source of fraud.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy recently suspended cost-cutting measures that have slowed deliveries in recent weeks.
Democrats, who accuse Trump of trying to discourage mail-in balloting to gain an electoral advantage over Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, cast themselves as defenders of a public that relies on the Postal Service for vital deliveries including prescription drugs.
“The American people do not want anyone messing with the Post Office. They certainly do not want it to be politicized. They just want their mail, they want their medicines and they want their mail-in ballots delivered in a timely way. And that is exactly what our bill does,” said Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney, who authored the legislation.
Maloney also released a Postal Service document showing an 8% slowdown in the processing of first class mail, most of it occurring after DeJoy became postmaster in June.
Republicans denied that the Postal Service was in any danger and criticized Democrats for moving legislation forward before DeJoy could testify at a House hearing slated for Monday.
“This is the result of a legislative process only slightly less absurd than the conspiracies, insinuations and fabrications that gave rise to the purported need for it,” said Republican Representative James Comer.
As lawmakers prepared to vote, Trump took to Twitter to accuse Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of seeking unnecessary funding for the Postal Service and trying to pull off a “Universal Mail-In Ballot Scam.”
“Vote NO to the Pelosi/Schumer money wasting HOAX which is taking place now,” the president wrote.
DeJoy told a Senate committee on Friday that the Postal Service would deliver ballots “securely and on time” in the November election but said bigger changes could come after that.
In fact, the House bill would prevent DeJoy from taking any action that would impede service until after next January or the end of the coronavirus health emergency, whichever comes later.
“Our legislation is not just about the election. It’s about – surprise, surprise, Mr. Postmaster General – the coronavirus!”, Pelosi told a news conference.
Source: The Guardian