By Rachel del Guidice | The Daily Signal
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called lawmakers back early to vote on legislation centered on the U.S. Postal Service. Pelosi and the Democrats asked Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Robert Duncan to come before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Aug. 24, fast-tracking a hearing originally set for mid-September.
What is really going on with the Postal Service? Is it true that the Postal Service is removing sorting machines to sabotage mail delivery before the November election? David Ditch, a research associate in budget and transportation issues at The Heritage Foundation who focuses on federal spending and fiscal policy, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss. (Interview begins at 06:22. Or read transcript below.)
Rachel del Guidice: I’m joined today on “The Daily Signal Podcast” by David Ditch. He’s a budget and transportation research associate at The Heritage Foundation who focuses on federal spending and fiscal policy. David, it’s great to have you with us on “The Daily Signal Podcast.”
David Ditch: Great to be here.
Del Guidice: Well, thank you so much for making time with us. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling the House back early to vote on Postal Service legislation. Can you tell us a little bit about what all is going on here?
Ditch: There has been a concerted effort going back to the spring, especially from House Democrats, to turn the Postal Service into a hot-button issue related to COVID-19.
In the spring, they were claiming that the Postal Service was facing imminent bankruptcy and that we needed to give, initially it was $25 billion and then $50 billion, and then it went all the way up to $75 billion.
And then, as it turned out, the Postal Service was not in fact facing imminent bankruptcy because while they have lower revenue from a reduction in mail demand, they’ve had a big surge in demand for package delivery. So their revenues are actually fairly stable this year.
Despite that, there is still a big appetite to provide a massive taxpayer-funded bailout for the Postal Service. And now the House Democrats are trying to link the issue to mail-in ballots and they’re throwing an increasingly bizarre set of conspiracy theories out to try to make it seem as though the new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, is destroying the Postal Service. That’s just not the case.
Del Guidice: On that note, David, Democrats have asked Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general, and Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Robert Duncan to come before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Aug. 24, which is fast-tracking a hearing that was originally set for mid-September, which DeJoy has been asked to attend. Why is all this being rushed so kind of last minute?
Ditch: It’s being rushed because the House majority seems to think that they have a political opportunity.
For those of us who, unfortunately, spend hours per day on Twitter, there has been a torrent of interest in the Postal Service, and it is especially strong on the activist left. They believe that efforts by Postmaster General DeJoy to lower costs and reform the Postal Service somehow are tantamount to felony, election tampering.
And many things that are very commonplace in terms of things like moving mailboxes from low-volume locations to high-volume locations or putting anti-theft devices on mailboxes, somehow these very standard actions that long predate the Trump administration are now being seen as a way to somehow prevent people from mailing in ballots.
It really makes no sense whatsoever when you understand how the Postal Service works, but because the House majority has been able to whip up such an emotional frenzy on this issue, they think they’ll be able to essentially, to my mind, extort a bailout for the Postal Service and ultimately the benefactors of a bailout would be the Postal Service workers union.
Del Guidice: In a letter to Democrats, Pelosi said, speaking of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, that he is one of the Trump mega donors, he’s proven a complicit crony as he continues to push forward sweeping new operational changes that degrade Postal Service, delay the mail. And according to the Post Office itself, she says, threatened to deny the ability of eligible Americans to cast their votes through the mail in the upcoming elections in a timely fashion.
David, is this a fair representation of what is happening? And if there’s another side, what’s the other side?
Ditch: It’s absolutely unfair.
So, one of the big talking points discussed that the left is throwing out revolves around decommissioning and removing large, frankly, to a certain extent, out-of-date mail sorters. The practice of decommissioning these mail sorters goes back years. Again, far predates the Trump administration.
The reason why we are removing some of these mail sorters is because there’s less mail. Mail volume peaked in America in 2001 and while we don’t have the numbers for 2020, frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me if mail volume this year ends up being about half what it was back in 2001.
If you have about half the mail, you need about half of the infrastructure involved in sorting the mail. And the fact that things like mail sorters are being turned off doesn’t in and of itself mean that there is a conspiracy to sabotage the Postal Service, unless we were talking about a massive reduction in number of sorters, which there’s no evidence of.
Again, this is business as usual, predates DeJoy, predates Trump, but somehow because it’s happening now, Pelosi and the rest of her crew are trying to paint this as an attempt to sabotage the election.
Del Guidice: Well, David, you have a piece [on] The Daily Signal headlined, “Fact Check: Debunking 10 Myths About the US Postal Service.” And the first myth that you tackle is that the Postal Service is removing sorting machines to sabotage delivery. Why is this not the case?
Ditch: Removing the sorting machines has to do with taking the Postal Service infrastructure, which takes a lot of money to maintain and right sizing it to fit the actual demand of the general public.
Because of electronic communication, people are sending fewer first- and second-class pieces of mail. And if there’s fewer pieces of mail going around, you don’t need all of the sorting machines to manage them.
Del Guidice: Another myth that you tackle is that the Postal Service plans to triple postage rates on mailed ballots. So what’s the reality of the situation here?
Ditch: This one is especially pernicious and it’s been repeated by the likes of Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, it’s all over the media.
The reality is that the Postal Service, and again, they were working on this guidance before Louis DeJoy became postmaster general, they are trying to make sure that state and local governments are aware of what types of mail makes sense to send ballots in, in different circumstances.
Most people requesting mail-in ballots are requesting them weeks and months in advance, state and local governments can use second-class mail to send those ballots on time and save money. But if people request ballots a week or even as little as four or five days before an election, it really is going to take a first-class stamp to make sure that the voter gets their ballot on time.
The Postal Service is going out of their way to try to make sure that as many Americans as possible get their ballots. This in fact is the exact opposite of what they would be doing if the postmaster general was trying to prevent people from getting their ballot.
And through the magic of the game of telephone essentially, what was turned into practical advice on, “Hey, sometimes we need to send ballots by first-class mail,” somehow that has now been morphed into the Post Office demanding that all ballots be sent by first-class mail, which is absolutely not the case. And I want to credit The Wall Street Journal, which did an excellent write-up on this on Monday.
Del Guidice: Another myth that you talk about is that the Postal Service needs more money to process mailed ballots. Is this the case?
Ditch: That is also not the case. This is something that I’ve seen from leaders in both parties, unfortunately.
The reality is that the Postal Service processes billions of items every single week. The scale of the number of mail-in ballots that will be taking place over the course of the entire fall is in the tens of millions. So, for any given week, the volume of mail-in ballots will be a couple percent at most.
And keep in mind, the Postal Service has to manage the flow of mail and packages that spikes during the holiday season. And I guarantee the holiday season spike will be far in excess of anything we’ll see related to mail-in ballots.
The Postal Service has the resources it needs to maintain regular operations well into next year. And it has more than enough infrastructure to handle a small blip, a minor increase in mail volume that might take place during the fall election season.
Del Guidice: Well, David, another myth you address in your piece is that the Postal Service only loses money due to unfair funding requirements. What’s going on here with the situation?
Ditch: This debate is one where … it’s less of a myth than some of the others, but it is still a myth.
Postal Service workers receive a very generous package of wages and benefits and it’s especially the benefits that have become really costly.
So not only do they get a regular salary and retirement pension, they also have a generous retirement health care plan. And a 2006 law required the Postal Service to start paying into this retirement health care plan in a similar way that they pay into a pension benefit plan.
Because of the incredible generosity of the retirement health plan, it’s very expensive and the Postal Service has been having to pay billions of dollars per year into the plan, but it means that to the extent they have paid into the plan, being responsible and making sure that there is money to provide for the benefits that the postal workers have earned.
For whatever reason, the House majority is now of the mindset that it’s wrong for the Postal Service to have to pay for these benefits.
Frankly, I’m not sure what the alternative is. Is the alternative not paying for the benefits? That seems really irresponsible. It seems like that’s going to put these postal workers on a little bit of a ledge because the benefits might not be there [that] they’re counting on when they retire.
I don’t know whether the alternative is to take all these benefits and somehow socialize them and put them all on the taxpayer dime.
But unfortunately, if you were to take all of the unfunded pension benefits that the Postal Service owes its workers, you’re talking right now about $120 billion, that’s in the neighborhood of $1,000 for every Household in the country. That’s a big cost. And I wish the House majority was a little more honest about what they’re looking for with this.
Del Guidice: So, David, to sum things up, in your opinion, how prepared is the Postal Service to take on the task that various states and many on the left are insisting that it perform for the election in November?
Ditch: When it comes to handling mail-in ballots for even an expected increase in demand this year, I think the Postal Service can absolutely manage it.
They don’t need $25 billion to get the job done. They do, however, need serious reforms. And if people can check out my piece on The Daily Signal, I point to some of those reforms along with some of the analysis that myself and my Heritage [Foundation] colleagues have done.
Del Guidice: Well, David, thank you so much for joining us today on “The Daily Signal Podcast” and breaking down this issue. It’s been great having you.
Ditch: Thanks, Rachel.