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The House Was Not in Order
By Bob Levi
NAPS Director of Legislative & Political Affairs
On Jan. 3, 2023, my watch registered 20,054 steps while attending more than a dozen congressional swearing-in events and 28 congressional office visits. However, on the day on which the 118th Congress was supposed to convene, chaos reigned. Nevertheless, I can assure you the NAPS flag was firmly planted in House and Senate offices and NAPS’ visibility was heightened during this very long and embarrassing day in our country’s history.
Now that the new legislative year has commenced, it is important to acknowledge all those NAPS members who have contributed their time, energy and resources to further the mutual interests of EAS-level postal employees throughout the nation. Their enthusiasm demonstrated through legislative engagement, repeated communication with their members of Congress and financial donations to the Supervisors’ Political Action Committee (SPAC), both large and small, will be pivotal this year to ensure that NAPS’ legislative positions are highlighted on Capitol Hill and throughout Washington, DC.
While the Senate got down to business in early January, the House chaos during the first week of January demonstrated how consequential NAPS’ legislative and political efforts will be this year.
The Senate convened with a two-seat Democratic majority and went about its day-one business with no hitches. However, as we all know, the same could not be said about the House.
The Republican 10-seat majority could not muster the required 218 votes to elect Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaker. Under the rules of the House and historic precedents, before the election of a speaker, the only action the House could take was to elect a speaker or adjourn—which it did numerous times.
Thousands of constituents who traveled to celebrate the swearing-in of their newly elected or reelected representatives left disappointed and frustrated by the failure to convene. It all was about the math. With all House members voting, McCarthy needed 218 votes.
Fourteen times, the House voted for speaker, yet, each time, McCarthy fell short because specific members of the House GOP Freedom Caucus refused to vote for him and held the House hostage to their demands. There were a variety of reasons for their refusal to support McCarthy.
For some, it was personal; for others, it was about leveraging their vote to extract concessions to empower members of the Freedom Caucus. Five days after the voting started, on the 15th round of deciding who would be Speaker of the House, at 12:37 a.m., enough members of the Freedom Caucus finally voted for McCarthy.
In order to get the necessary House majority, six Freedom Caucus members who would not vote for McCarthy simply voted “present.” Their “non-vote” lessened the total number of votes needed to elect a speaker to 216, enough to secure the gavel for the California congressman.
The reason NAPS’ legislative activities will be critical this year is the result of the apparent terms of the Freedom Caucus’ ransom demands. Postal employee and retiree benefits definitely will be at risk. McCarthy, in exchange for Freedom Caucus votes, made significant concessions.
Although the House Republican Conference and McCarthy have been tight-lipped about the terms of the ransom, it is clear that the House’s awaited summertime vote on the U.S. Treasury’s creditworthiness will be shackled to cuts to entitlement programs such as federal and postal retirement annuities, Social Security and earned health benefits.
Members of the Freedom Caucus have pledged to jeopardize America’s creditworthiness and global economy if their budget-cutting demands are not met. Therefore, NAPS members will have to seek out responsible members of the House and Senate—Republicans and Democrats—to face down the budget blackmail of those in the Freedom Caucus.
Next month, our efforts will be in full gear at the annual Legislative Training Seminar. We will need to maintain that momentum for the rest of 2023.
One of the items NAPS will be keeping a close eye on as we work our way through the year is implementation of the Postal Reform Act of 2022. Many of the provisions in the bill will have a positive and lasting effect on postal employees and the financial health of the Postal Service.
A key section in the bill is the creation of a postal health benefits program within the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, effective in 2025. In addition, the section legislates the integration between the new postal plans and Medicare for most future retirees. As OPM and the USPS collaborate on implementation, NAPS will be in the forefront to ensure the results of their work is consistent with the letter and intent of the law.
Before commencement of the 118th Congress, the House Democratic Caucus elected Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland to assume the ranking position on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, formerly the Committee on Oversight and Reform. The House Republican Conference already has designated Rep. James Comer of Kentucky to chair the committee.
One of the arenas in which NAPS members and the Postal Service excelled was in continuing to deliver democracy for America. The Postal Service carried more than 54 million ballots for the 2022 midterm elections, with almost 99% delivered to election authorities within three days of entering the mailstream; most were delivered within two days.
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