Negotiations appear stalled after Democrats block measure they say was too narrowly focused.
The Senate on Thursday failed to advance a measure to provide the U.S. Postal Service with an emergency cash infusion of $10 billion as part of a pandemic relief package after Senate Democrats united in opposition to the bill.
The bill, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., introduced as a “skinny” version of a larger package the White House and congressional Democrats failed to agree to, would have provided aid to schools, small businesses and individuals out of work in addition to funding to USPS. Senate Democrats rejected the measure for its failure to address an array of other issues they have insisted are essential to assist those suffering from the slumping economy. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was the lone Republican to vote against the bill.
Earlier this year, Congress provided the Postal Service with a $10 billion line of credit to help the cash-strapped mailing agency better absorb losses that spiked during the pandemic. The Senate Republican measure that failed on Thursday would have converted that loan into a grant that did not need to be repaid if USPS’ cash on hand fell below $8 billion. The borrowing authority has created some controversy, as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin—as signatory on the loan—demanded a loan sheet that required USPS to turn over sensitive contract agreements and financial information. After previously speculating it could run out of money this year, postal management has said its capacity to tap into the loan if necessary would allow the agency to operate at least through August 2021.
While the Trump administration earlier this year rejected efforts to provide appropriations to USPS, Mnuchin during recent congressional testimony said funding for the Postal Service is an area of bipartisan agreement that would be included in any coronavirus relief package. Embattled Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has also indicated he would support emergency funding to offset USPS losses during the pandemic. The likelihood of any such package going forward remains in doubt, however, as negotiations are currently stalled.
House Democrats in May passed a $3 trillion bill that included $25 billion for the Postal Service and a variety of perks for all federal employees, such as hazard pay for those working on the frontlines of pandemic response. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said Democrats would bring their price tag down to accommodate the White House, but administration officials said their demands were still too high and the two sides could not find agreement.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote that he was hopeful negotiations could resume.
“I still have some hope once this bill is defeated, if past is prologue, there’s actually a significant chance that the public heat on many Republican senators as they go back home will have them come to their senses, and they’ll start negotiating with us in a serious way,” Schumer said.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, are also facing a Sept. 30 deadline to keep federal agencies funded. The White House and House Democrats last week suggested they had agreed to decouple a stopgap spending bill that would avoid a shutdown Oct. 1 from the coronavirus negotiations. The length of such a continuing resolution has not yet been agreed upon, however, even as Republicans have indicated they would like to see the bill last into December.