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November 6, 2023
Dysfunction in the House
By Bob Levi
NAPS Director of Legislative & Political Affairs
Oy vey, borrowed from the Yiddish, is used to express dismay, frustration or grief. All I could do in early October was exclaim, “Oy vey!” as I witnessed the political mischief waged in the lower house of Congress. Eight members of the Republican party effectively shut down House legislative activities with their vote of no confidence in the leadership of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
Their rebellion took the form of a motion to declare the post of House Speaker “vacant.” On Oct. 3, the motion was approved by a vote of 216-210. “Yes” votes were cast by all the Democrats, along with the eight Republican malcontents.
Anyone following national news would have recognized that McCarthy’s hold on the speaker’s gavel was tenuous. A handful of very demanding, ultra-conservative members of the Republican Conference have persistently threatened to offer a “motion to vacate the chair” ever since the 118th Congress convened less than a year ago.
The immediate trigger for the vote was for the “unpardonable sin” of agreeing to schedule a vote on a bipartisan temporary government funding bill. That bill passed the House and Senate with overwhelming majorities, 335-91 and 88-9 respectively. This bipartisanship was too much for those eight House members, three who have seats on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability.
The temporary funding bill, known as a “continuing resolution,” finances government operations only through Nov. 17. It is unclear what latitude, if any, the next speaker will have in negotiations with the Senate and White House over the next funding bill. If the new speaker refuses to negotiate or demands dra-conian cuts that could impair vital government services, the threat of a government shutdown will be resurrected.
As a result of the speaker vacancy, no activities relating to the next budget can take place. Indeed, this legislative hiatus will extend until a new speaker has been elected by the House of Representatives—however long it takes.
It is important to note the Postal Service does not rely on congressional appropriations. Consequently, its operations continue during a government shutdown. In addition, postal pensions are not impacted because federal annuities are financed through the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund.
One item of interest to postal employees and retirees was included in the recently enacted continuing resolution. The bill includes a $28 million appropriation to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to assist the agency in implementing the new Postal Service Health Benefits Program, which will be implemented in January 2025. OPM advised Congress that, without the additional funding, it would have suffered a funding shortfall that could have impaired its ability to implement the postal health program in January 2025.
One of NAPS’ 2023 legislative priorities has been enacting legislation to clarify the authority of uniformed members of the Postal Inspection Service—postal police officers. As this column went to press, there was growing momentum for legislation to restore the authority of postal police to protect postal employees, property and the mail, whether located inside or outside USPS facilities. This was the effective policy up until summer 2020.
We understand that a bipartisan Senate bill will be introduced shortly to serve as a companion to H.R. 3005, the Postal Police Officer Reform Act. This positive news follows in the wake of a critical USPS Inspector General Audit Report on the Postal Service’s disappointing response to mail theft.
In part, the report concluded the Postal Service did not have sufficient timelines and “actionable milestones” to implement plans to address mail theft. The continued vulnerability of so-called arrow keys was identified.
Most notably, however, the report identified serious staffing issues with regard to protecting the mail, including the absence of a national assessment of personnel deployment to combat postal crime. NAPS believes H.R. 3005 and the soon-to-be introduced Senate version of the bill would make meaningful progress in combatting postal-related crime.
While the House was having its oy vey episode, the Senate confirmed Robert Taub and Thomas Day to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC). With these confirmations, the PRC will continue to perform its statutory oversight and regulatory obligations with a full complement of five commissioners.
Taub has served on the PRC for the past 12 years and was its chairman from 2014-2021. Day, during his over-35-year career in the USPS, served in numerous senior positions, including chief sustainability officer and senior vice president for Intelligent Mail and Address Quality and Government Relations.
Finally, Nov. 13 will begin the last FEHB open season in which postal employees and retirees will take part. The open season closes on Dec. 11. FEHB plans for 2024 will have expanded coverage. Among the coverage improvements are anti-obesity medications, mental health and substance abuse services, maternity care and assisted reproductive technology.
In 2024, the enrollee share of FEHBP premiums will rise 7.7% on the average. This is 1% less than the 2023 rise. Nevertheless, there are wide disparities in the premium changes among the 156 participating plans. Premiums will decrease in 28 plans, stay the same in 15 plans, increase below 7.7% in 64 plans and increase more than 7.7% in 49 plans.
Next year, postal employees and retirees will participate in a Postal Service Health Benefits Plan open season whose premiums will solely reflect the postal community and FEHBP savings accrued through Medicare integration.
Categories: The Postal Supervisor