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Seismic Changes in Congress Provide New Opportunities
By Bob Levi
Director of Legislative & Political Affairs
I want to bring to your attention a new source of information important to NAPS members. It’s called NAPS Chat—a weekly podcast posted on the NAPS website’s legislative page. It’s intended to inform NAPS members about the latest legislative and political goings-on in our nation’s capital.
In November, the 2018 midterm congressional elections yielded significant changes to the legislative landscape for NAPS members and the Postal Service. It’s important to note that the Supervisors’ Political Action Committee (SPAC) can boast that more than 91 percent of SPAC-supported candidates won on Nov. 6. These races were not sure things. SPAC invested in many candidates, in competitive races, who will be strong advocates for NAPS’ legislative agenda.
Probably the most consequential result for NAPS is that new chairmen will wield the gavels at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and at its subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Postal Service and federal employee benefits. In addition, two strong postal allies lost their Senate seats.
At the same time, there has been no movement on the two Postal Board of Governor nominations still pending before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Also, President Trump has yet to nominate individuals to fill the five remaining board vacancies.
The seismic changes in the House, combined with frustrating stagnation in the Senate, provide NAPS with key opportunities to define the legislative narrative to be written about postal reform during the first few months of the 116th Congress. In late November, Executive Vice President Ivan D. Butts sent a letter to each incoming member of Congress, congratulating them and offering assistance as they begin to navigate postal issues. In addition, the timing of our Legislative Training Seminar (LTS) creates those opportunities.
November’s electoral outcome delivers NAPS a crucial opening to school new members of Congress—approximately 100 freshmen House and Senate members—about NAPS and the important role its members play to safeguard a high-quality and accessible mail system. By the early-March LTS, House and Senate committee rosters will have been decided and President Trump will have submitted his Fiscal Year 2020 federal budget to Congress. It also is likely that postal reform bills will have been introduced.
Foremost, the 40-seat Democratic net gain in the House resulted in a Democratic majority. It also produced a modified “changing of the guard” for committees that have jurisdiction over the Postal Service and postal employee health and retirement benefits. The chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is Rep. Elijah Cummings (MD); the chairman of the primary subcommittee dealing with NAPS issues is Rep. Gerry Connolly (VA).
In a November interview with TheWashington Post, Cummings stated that one of his top priorities is “reforming the Postal Service to place it on a more sustainable financial footing.” Both Cummings and Connolly are strong supporters of NAPS-promoted postal reform legislation; they zealously oppose proposals to privatize the Postal Service. Both chairmen are outspoken foes of health and retirement cuts to federal employees and retirees.
During the previous session of Congress, Connolly introduced legislation that would have extended Merit Systems Protection Board appeal rights to EAS-level employees currently denied such rights. In addition to the leadership changes, the Democrats will be adding at least seven new members to the committee.
While the Cummings and Connolly committee leadership appointments were predictable, there was a surprise on the Republican side of the committee dais. Postal reform advocate Rep. Mark Meadows (NC) stepped aside as the new ranking Republican on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in favor of Rep. Jim Jordan (OH). Originally, Jordan wanted to assume the lead GOP position on the Judiciary Committee; however, it appeared he did not have the votes to secure that ranking position on the committee. Therefore, at the 12th hour, he shifted gears, asserted his seniority on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and informed Meadows of his desire to assume the ranking position on the committee.
The end result likely will be a sort of power-sharing arrangement between Jordan and Meadows who are friends and, in the past, served as chairs of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Unlike Meadows, Jordan does not have a record of legislative bipartisanship. It is not clear how Jordan’s role as ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee will impact the bipartisan track record of postal reform legislation in the House. NAPS will be pushing for the introduction of postal legislation to address postal viability and NAPS’ priorities.
While the House shifted its partisan majority, Senate Republicans strengthened their majority by two seats. In the elections, NAPS lost two strong allies: Sens. Claire McCaskill (MO) and Heidi Heitkamp (ND). Both senators were passionate promoters of rural mail service and relentless advocates of improved service standards. Sen. Ron Johnson (WI) remains chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Sen. Gary Peters (MI) will inherit the top Democratic slot on the committee. We expect Republicans will add one new member to the committee. It is unclear whether Democrats will be able to replace both McCaskill and Heitkamp on the committee, or just one.
Many of the pending questions relating to committee composition, organization and legislative priorities will be settled by the end of January—just in time for the final preparations for LTS. Stay tuned.