What Could Happen in the Lame Duck Session
(This article first appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)
By Legislative & Political Department Director Judy Beard
Consider the federal midterm elections as just one round of our fight to win economic justice for workers and their families. This year, we can be proud of the work we have done to educate members of Congress and the public on the value of the people’s Postal Service. Many sitting members and candidates took a public stance against postal privatization leading up to the midterms because of your engagement with them.
However, with a new congressional session coming up, our fight is not over. We must continue to be aware of postal issues and have discussions with coworkers, community leaders, family and friends to support a progressive, working class agenda during the lame duck session.
Following the 2018 midterm elections, Congress will enter into what is known as a “lame duck session.” This describes the period of time after the Nov. 6 elections, but before January 3, 2019, when newly-elected representatives take office for the 116th Congress. Some of the current legislators will not be returning for the new session, either due to retirement or loss of their election.
The public may think this 50-day period is a time when legislation moves slowly. However, history shows if the majority party changes in the election, the current party in power begins to schedule votes on issues that support their agenda.
The lame duck session of the 109th Congress passed with a bi-partisan vote the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) of 2006. This law required the USPS to pay $5.5 billion per year to fund future retiree health benefits 75 years in advance, which no other government agency or private business is required to do. There has been postal reform introduced every Congress since to address this issue.
Possible action in the 2018 lame duck could be confirming nominations for the Postal Board of Governors. There are nine governors’ positions; only two are currently filled. In August 2018, the Senate confirmed the nominations of David Williams and Robert Duncan to the Board of Governors. Although this is a step in the right direction, the Board still fails to have a quorum.
The Board oversees the Postal Service's expenditures, reviews its practices, conducts long-range planning,approves officer compensation and sets policies on all postal matters. The Board also takes up matters such as service standards and capital investments.
In September 2018, the White House nominated Ron Bloom and Roman Martinez, for terms expiring in 2020 and 2024, respectively. Both men had careers in investment banking and have worked in the public and private sectors. By having the additional two members of the Board and with the Postmaster General and DeputyPMG, a quorum can be reached. The Postal Regulatory Commission also faces a vacancy. While the Trump Administration nominated Michael Kubayanda, and the Senate held a confirmation hearing, he has yet to be formally appointed to the PRC. During the lame duck, the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs committee could take up these confirmation hearings. If the committee votes in favor of the nominations, the full Senate would then have to vote on their confirmations. The committee confirmation hearing and the full Senate vote are conducted at the discretion of the committee chairman and Senate majority leadership.
While we can only speculate what exactly Congress will take up when they return, it is certain that elected officials will discuss federal government spending. The current spending plan is set to expire on December 7, 2018, and if a spending bill is not signed into law beyond this date, the federal government faces a shutdown. The 2013 government shutdown, which lasted over two weeks, cost the national economy $24 billion. Shutting down the federal government has far reaching and negatively disruptive impacts on most Americans’ lives, either directly or indirectly.
APWU will remain vigilant on actions that occur during the lame duck session. Let’s continue to hold our elected officials accountable and build a movement that would result in a better life for all.