What to Expect in a Lame Duck Congress
(This article first appeared in the November-December issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
When members of Congress return to the Capitol after Election Day, they will be officially operating in a “lame duck” session. The “lame duck” session will include senators and representatives who lost their seats in the election, but whose terms don’t expire until Jan. 3, 2017.
The Legislative and Political Department is ever mindful of the dangers inherent in lame duck sessions. It was during one such session in 2006 that Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) – which was a disaster by any measure. The PAEA contains the onerous provision that required the Postal Service make payments of more than $5 billion annually to pre-fund 75 years of estimated costs!
Among the items on the lame duck “to-do” list:
- Passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, which the APWU opposes.
- Possible passage of a postal reform bill.
- Voting on nominees for federal judgeships, including the vacancy on the Supreme Court.
- Passage of a spending bill to fund the government through September 2017.
We are extremely concerned about the possible passage of postal legislation in the post-election session. When the legislature returns from its break after the election, we will meet with members of Congress and their staffs to stay current on the bill’s movement and to re-emphasize our position on this important piece of legislation.
One of our main goals for postal reform is to reduce the Postal Service’s pre-funding payments. House bill H.R. 5714 seeks to reduce the payments through “Medicare integration.” This would establish a postal-only health plan in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) and would automatically enroll most Medicare-eligible postal workers in Medicare A, B, and D.
We want to ensure that automatic enrollment in Medicare Part D results in no additional costs to members and retirees, and we are advocating an opt-out provision for hardship cases. We will push for language in the bill that retains door delivery as opposed to curbside cluster boxes.
House and Senate bills must be identical before legislation can go to the president for his signature. Differences between House and Senate versions are often resolved in a “conference committee,” where there is potential for great mischief. We will be vigilantly watching for any changes that come via amendments to the bill and will continue to keep you informed of our position.
Plans for the presidential transition are underway. We collaborated with an AFL-CIO work group to outline our legislative priorities, which include the following:
- Only people who will advocate for a strong public Postal Service should be nominated to the USPS Board of Governors and the Postal Regulatory Commission. Recent nominees have included proponents of postal privatization and a lobbyist for the payday lending industry, which opposes postal banking.
- Legislation must reverse the damaging provisions of PAEA, such as the pre-funding mandate and price cap on postage.
- We must keep the “service” in the Postal Service by restoring overnight delivery of first class mail and periodicals within the same metropolitan area; maintaining six-day and door-to-door delivery; speeding up mail delivery overall; restoring full hours of retail operations in rural communities, and halting the closure of processing facilities.
- We seek to expand services to enable the USPS to better fulfill its mission. Basic financial services, such as paycheck cashing, could help millions of the working poor who are preyed upon by payday lenders and check-cashers. We also seek an expansion of voting by mail to increase voter participation and address – at least in part – the scourge of voter suppression.
We will continue to advocate for our cause with the new administration and Congress.