President Trump offered a broadside against the beleaguered Post Office in the Oval Office on Friday. “The Postal Service is a joke,” he said. Trump’s longstanding grudge surfaced anew: the rates the USPS charges giant companies, especially Amazon, is too low, Trump says.
Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), the union that represents urban mail carriers, appeared on Yahoo Finance a fews hours later and responded.
“I would say the administration is grossly misinformed with regard to postal finances before the pandemic and during the pandemic,” said Rolando. “The Postal Service and its employees are absolutely no joke.”
Trump’s claim about the service being in financial trouble because of low rates, which has previously been refuted by fact checkers, is part of a surging debate in Washington likely to come to a head in the coming weeks as officials weigh helping the Postal Service using either existing authority or as part of another stimulus package.
Trump was unequivocal on Friday: “If they don’t raise the price, I’m not signing anything” he said. The President may or may not get his wish to raise the price of a package “four or five times” what it is currently but either way he will likely won’t do much to hurt Amazon.
The USPS ‘doesn't need more debt’
The U.S. Postal Service, which is run as an independent federal agency and generally doesn’t take federal money, has been facing economic hardships in recent years and the current crisis is threatening to push it over the edge.
“We need to start thinking in those apocalyptic terms,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who oversees the Post Office, said in a recent Yahoo Finance interview, “because we are about to face the apocalypse.”
Mail volume (and the accompanying revenue) could be down 50% this year, according to some estimates, and Connelly predicts they could run out of money by this summer.
The most recent stimulus package included some help: $10 billion in additional borrowing authority.
Congressional Democrats say Trump personally removed the more generous provisions from the bill during negotiations. The NALC called the conditional line of credit a “slap in the face” and Connolly said it’s unacceptable.
“The Postal Service doesn't need more debt,” Rolando said. “What they need is to be in a position that they were in before the virus, after the virus.”
The loan money is controversial because it comes with strings attached. On Thursday, the Washington Post published a story reporting that the Trump administration “is considering taking unprecedented control over key operations of the U.S. Postal Service,” using the line of credit as leverage.
“We are going to put certain criteria for a postal reform program as part of the loan,” Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said on Friday.
Hours after his remarks, Trump followed up with a tweet that clarified he would “never let our Post Office fail.”
I will never let our Post Office fail. It has been mismanaged for years, especially since the advent of the internet and modern-day technology. The people that work there are great, and we’re going to keep them happy, healthy, and well!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 24, 2020
Will there be help in a ‘phase 4’ deal?
The partisan divide appears to be around what “saving” the Postal Service means. Democrats – and many other USPS allies – want to forget the $10 billion loan and simply give money to the service.
They hope to eliminate the USPS’s outstanding debt and allocate $25 billion to shore up its finances. There is also a push to repeal a rule requiring the Postal Service to pre-fund retirement health benefits for employees.
“The rates for parcels are not the issue during this virus,” Rolando said about the president’s demands. “The issue is the loss of the letter volume and the revenue that comes along with that.”
Rolando said that, for his members, he just wants an appropriation to fill the hole caused by the broad economic shutdown. Rolando worked as a letter carrier in Florida beginning in the late 1970s, and became the 18th president of the NALC in 2009.
A battle made more complicated by vote by mail
The issue at the core of all this back and forth, for many, is the Postal Service’s possible role in the fall election.
Democrats are pushing for increased vote by mail efforts to allow people to vote even if the coronavirus is still limiting large gatherings of people. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has said that “in this next bill, we are going to have to do the Postal Service,” adding it was “directly related” to the vote-by-mail initiative.
The President has repeatedly stood against increasing voting-by-mail efforts recently, saying “mailed ballots are corrupt, in my opinion.” (It’s another claim that fact checkers have criticized.)
He has also expressed concern for what the changes to the voting system would mean for Republican electoral prospects. “The things they had in there were crazy,” Trump said while discussing Democratic initiatives stripped out of the phase 3 deal. “They had things — levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
The effort to turn the country towards vote-by-mail has also been an animating issue for Democrats. Speaking of the Post Office, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez recently said, “people are hypothesizing that maybe [Trump] wants it to to be compromised heading into the fall.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, went even further during a fundraiser Thursday. “Imagine threatening not to fund the Post Office. Now what in God’s name is that about?” he said, according to the pool report. Biden said he thought Trump could try to push back the election because “that’s the only way he thinks he can possibly win.”
Rolando offers that his members will help with whatever the states decide about mail-in-voting. “We stand ready to expand our long-standing role in that process,” he said.
Ben Werschkul is a producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.