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New York Congressman Peter King Champions the Postal Service
NAPS Director of Legislative & Political Affairs Bob Levi talked with Rep. Peter King (R-NY) during the May 14 NAPS Chat about the creation of the Postal Preservation Caucus and how King’s tenure as past chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee taught him the vital importance of the Postal Service and what Americans can do to ensure the agency is not victimized by those out to harm and belittle it.
King is serving his 14th term in the U.S. House; he is retiring at the end of this term. King said it was a hard decision to make but, after 28 years, it was time to start a new chapter in his life. He said he’s had a great relationship with the Postal Service not only in Congress, but also as a resident of Long Island. “Even through the coronavirus, you see a postal carrier come to your house every day, making deliveries. It’s not easy,” he observed.
Levi pointed out there are about 1,300 Postal Service employees who live in King’s 2nd Congressional District of New York. “They appreciate your support of the Postal Service,” he said.
They discussed King’s role on the House Homeland Security Committee; he became chairman of the newly formed committee in 2005. “Those were some tough times in New York involving homeland security, funding and first responders,” King professed. “It was important to me to fight for New York—and the country—and to handle it properly. It came out of the horrible, dramatic moments of 9/11, but being able to do something about it, having a comeback, was very important to me.”
Levi pointed out that some true champions of the Postal Service have hailed from New York and the Republican Party. For example, former Rep. Ben Gilman was the ranking member of the old House Post Office and Civil Service Committee, former Rep. John McHugh was chairman of the postal subcommittee, former Rep. Jerry Solomon was chairman of the Rules Committee during a time when there was a lot of postal activity in the ’80s and ’90s and former Rep. Frank Horton was the ranking member of the Postal Operations Committee. “In today’s political environment, it’s unique that Republican members have been champions of the Postal Service,” Levi said.
King agreed they all were advocates of the agency. “For me, the job postal workers do is absolutely essential,” he said. “We’ve had a postal service since before the founding of the country. It’s part of Americana. But, apart from the romantic aspect, it’s absolutely vital.
“The service postal workers provide is truly amazing—having to deliver mail everywhere in the country, no matter what, and the fact they are so reliable. And on a personal level, they are outstanding members of the community. I don’t understand why in some parts of the country there’s almost a built-in opposition to the Postal Service. There are enough issues we can argue about without trying to undermine the Postal Service. It’s especially important during the coronavirus pandemic.
“People want to make reforms to the Postal Service. Let’s have a debate about that, but don’t try to sabotage the agency by cutting funding during the coronavirus. That’s a backdoor way to kill the Postal Service. If we want to make it better, make it better for the employees—whatever has to be done. There should be a full debate in committee, and that should be the only focus of the debate.
“Let’s not have it tied into funding being cut off or expired during the pandemic. That’s why I strongly supported funding for the Postal Service so it doesn’t just stay alive, but is healthy, as we go through the pandemic and come out of it.”
Levi said that just today, House Democratic leadership released text of legislation calling for $25 billion in emergency funding of the Postal Service and eliminating the strings attached to funds already enacted in legislation in March. Levi asked King if he thought that would be helpful to the agency.
“It has to be helpful,” he declared. “It’s not the final step, but it will help people breathe easier and I certainly will be voting for that legislation. It has to go to the Senate. The way politicians can get away with hurting the Postal Service is if it happens in the dark of night and no one knows about it.
“Now, the issue is out there and has been brought to people’s attention; Rep. Carolyn Maloney and I formed the Postal Preservation Caucus. So I think not just in the House, but also the Senate, they are going to get grassroots responses from constituents as to why it’s important to keep the Postal Service going, as well as ensuring the agency is vibrant and healthy.”
Levi asked how the Postal Preservation Caucus was formed. King said Maloney called him and talked about the Postal Service. Maloney said they can’t allow the Postal Service to suffer because of the pandemic or allow it to be used as cover or an excuse to hurt the agency. They also talked to Reps. Mark Amodei (R-NV) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and decided to form the caucus.
“I think a number of us weren’t aware the Postal Service was not included in the first bills in response to the pandemic,” King stated. “Then, we realized it was left out and it was not by accident. This was a plan by some people to undermine the Postal Service. Funding for the agency was in the first bill, but then was taken out by the Senate at the last minute. We weren’t fully aware, with everything going on—not being in Washington, then coming back to Washington to take a vote.
“That’s when it really hit us hard that we could be doing permanent damage to the Postal Service if we didn’t act quickly. We felt one way to act quickly and really call attention to it was to form the House caucus.”
“So the intent of the caucus is to enhance visibility among your colleagues and the situation confronted in light of the pandemic?” Levi asked. “Yes,” King replied. “First, we want to show that funding has to be provided. And second, that it can’t be put off because of the pandemic. In many respects, it’s more important than ever.
“So much has been shut down; people are so isolated right now. The last thing you need is to have a slowdown in delivery during the pandemic, then come out of the pandemic and find out the Postal Service has been terminally weakened. We couldn’t let enemies or opponents of the Postal Service use the pandemic as a cover to cut funding to the Postal Service.”
King also serves on the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery. Levi asked how, in that framework, the Postal Service is part of emergency preparedness or if it is a part of emergency preparedness as an essential part of the governmental infrastructure dealing with the coronavirus.
“I consider it to be a part,” King stressed. “As we saw after 9/11 and now during this pandemic, people have to have lines of communication and you can’t always count on the private sector. And no one does the Postal Service’s job—no one has to make the deliveries where the Postal Service does.
“To keep the mail going and lines of communication open are important, but it’s especially important during times of crisis—physically, security-wise and psychologically—for people to know the Postal Service is there for them. Also, the agency is there, delivering emergency products.”
Levi said he never realized such a large percentage of pharmaceuticals and health products are sent via the mail. Last year, a billion prescriptions were delivered by the Postal Service. “You represent a suburban New York district and the Postal Service is important to your constituents,” Levi observed. “But think how important it is to rural areas where you can’t walk into a CVS or Walgreen’s; residents are totally reliant on the Postal Service.”
“More and more,” King pointed out, “people get their pharmaceuticals through the mail. I can only imagine what it’s like in a rural area. I saw during Hurricane Sandy when pharmacies shut down on Long Island—right outside New York City. Thankfully, people could get medications through the mail. Seniors, people confined to their homes—it’s absolutely essential to get their medications through the mail.”
Levi referred to the tax benefit provided through the Paycheck Protection Act recently enacted that stipulated if you did not have a bank account, you could get a prepaid card in the mail that was redeemable. Citizens could rely on the Postal Service for delivery of that essential financial aid to the American public.
“And that’s really essential,” King stressed. “It’s not just icing on the cake or a stopgap measure; it’s really essential for people to have that money to get them through those tough, early days. We could go on talking all day about the necessity of the Postal Service. And that’s why, going back to your first question why we in New York support it—how could anybody not support it?”
Levi asked, “How do we convince our friends in the Senate and the Treasury that the Postal Service should not be used as a political tool, and it provides an essential service that is deserving of support by Congress?”
King said it needs to be through power politics. “What I mean by that,” he explained, “is having grassroots constituents contact their member of Congress. Have supervisors, postmasters, union members—everyone involved, including rank-and-file individuals who don’t necessarily work for the Postal Service, but who depend on the agency—to organize as much as possible and put the pressure on senators to vote. Americans overwhelmingly support the Postal Service. The Senate is where the problem is going to be.
“Find out the states where the senators may be opposed to it and have as many people possible contact those Senate offices. This is a grassroots effort—not a Democrat or Republican issue or a red state or blue state issue. Maybe it is at certain leadership levels of the Senate, but not with rank-and-file Americans.
“Take advantage of democracy and put as much pressure as you can on these senators. Also, have your local mayors and local officials contact the senators.”
Levi said a bipartisan letter circulated through the Senate, which was sent to the majority leader, as well as the minority leader. Signing on to the letter were Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Steve Daines (R-MT), among others. “To your point,” Levi asserted, “I think there is a growing sensitivity, particularly among rural-state members in the Senate that you can’t abandon the Postal Service and can’t let it become a political pawn in whatever battle is going on between the administration and a customer of the Postal Service.”
King added, “People in the administration or the Senate, if they are against the Postal Service, then let that come to an open vote on the House and Senate floors. Don’t let them cut off funding because of the unique situation of the pandemic when the House and Senate are not in session all the time,” he urged. “Basically, all we do is vote on a bill every few weeks for funding and use that as an opportunity to starve the Postal Service.”
“It’s not just the customers—your residential constituents—who benefit from the Postal Service,” Levi said. “It’s a $1.4 trillion industry around the country that includes greeting card and catalog companies and small businesses that need the Postal Service for access to a national market. Even in your congressional district, there are people who rent space to the Postal Service that’s almost $2.7 million in lease payments. If the agency is insolvent, those are lease payments that can’t be made.”
“Right,” King agreed. “These are all collateral benefits that come from the presence and activity of the Postal Service.”
Levi asked King what he would recommend NAPS members do. “You are our champion,” he declared. “But for those around the country who are listening—the NAPS family, outside the NAPS family, postal employees, family members of postal employees—what should they be doing after they hear this podcast?”
“They should be reaching out to people in their communities and have them contact the senators,” King replied. “And that’s residents, local elected officials, local businesses, local property owners. Have them contact their senators; that’s the way to get it done.”