More than two dozen Democratic senators are urging Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to stamp out politics from any discussion of price hikes or service changes at the struggling U.S. Postal Service.
The essential service is in danger of bankruptcy as it finds itself in the crosshairs of President Donald Trump and some Senate Republicans. While millions of Americans rely on the agency as one of the only mechanisms available to connect with people and services during the virtual nationwide shutdown created by the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter obtained exclusively by NBC News, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., along with 28 other prominent Senate Democrats and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, called on Mnuchin to “reject any politically-motivated conditions that would force price increases, service or benefit cuts, or otherwise hinder the excellent work of the USPS when considering the pledged $10 billion emergency loan or any other relief for the USPS.”
In addition to Sanders, four other former 2020 Democratic presidential candidates signed the letter: Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
The senators’ urging comes as Postmaster General Megan Brennan — who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2015 and was the first woman to hold the position — was replaced with Louis DeJoy, a top Republican donor.
Trump previously told the agency to raise its shipping rates by “approximately four times” before it can get access to aid already approved in the initial CARES Act stimulus package, or seek more funding.
Acknowledging the economic uncertainty the virus has created, the senators argue that the Postal Service is necessary “to ensure everyone is able to get their essential medicine prescriptions, purchase items not available in their area, or to keep in touch with loved ones in a time of social distancing.”
Although the Postal Service Board of Governors is majority Republican and is “appointed by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate,” the agency is facing questions from some prominent Senate Republicans.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wrote a letter to the postmaster general Wednesday asking for weekly revenue reports from the agency. He claims that the Postal Service may not have been transparent with its publicly reported revenue losses.
“Despite recent media reports suggesting that the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically hurt USPS, the revenue data provided to my staff for the first five weeks of the crisis shows a different story,” Johnson wrote.
Although Johnson helped secure a bipartisan $10 billion loan to the Postal Service as part of the first CARES package, he questions the high revenue losses it is projecting.
“From March 16, 2020, through April 19, 2020, revenues for USPS were down 5.86 percent compared with similar dates last year. That was a far cry from the 30 percent that USPS had been publicly projecting,” he said.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the Oversight subcommittee on government operations, which has jurisdiction over the Postal Service, has been one of the strongest advocates for the Postal Service and against politicizing the agency.
“If Senator Johnson is under the misimpression that they are exaggerating and that the effects of the pandemic somehow have bypassed the Postal Service, he could not be more wrong,” Connolly told NBC News. “I hope he gets an education quick, because we need to provide immediate relief to the Postal Service.”
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Brennan warned Johnson and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, that Postal Service debt could balloon to $54.3 billion over the next 10 years because of COVID-19.
“Based on these projections, it is expected that the Postal Service’s financial condition will worsen significantly compared to previous estimates,” Brennan wrote in a letter. “Our current projections, which are based upon the assumptions indicated herein, indicate the Postal Service would be essentially illiquid in September 2020 if additional cash is not obtained.”
The bipartisan Postal Service has existed since the 18th century, and Democratic lawmakers warn of the inevitable backlash Republicans would get if it were to cease to exist — particularly in a presidential election year.
“So many people depend on the Postal Service, and Congress should work to find bipartisan common ground to ensure they are able to continue providing their critical services,” Peters told NBC News.
CORRECTION (May 7, 2020, 6:23 a.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated how the appointment of the new U.S. postmaster general was made. It was by the Postal Service’s Board of Governors, not by President Donald Trump.