Will Cantor's Defeat Sink the Highway-Postal Delivery Deal?

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The deposed House Majority leader hoped to rescue highway funding with savings from moving to five-day delivery.

Cantor's defeat throws yet another variable into postal reform.
Cantor's defeat throws yet another variable into postal reform.

A funny thing happened to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on his way to pushing an aggressive June legislative agenda that included a modified postal delivery schedule. He lost his Virginia House seat in yesterday's GOP primary election to economics professor Dave Brat. The surprising defeat led the Washington Post to opine that House legislative activity would now cease, as Republican members would “avoid doing anything—literally anything—that could be used against them” in their mid-term reelection bids this summer. Today, Cantor stepped down from his House leadership position.

That could well include postal issues that divide House members along political and geographic lines on issues like labor and rural delivery. Highway legislation, meanwhile, is legislation that must be passed soon, during repair season, or lack of needed construction will end up costing more in the long run. Cantor and House GOP leadership devised a plan to institute five-day mail delivery as a way to finance a short-term extension of the highway fund--a plan supported by Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe, who is eager for the opportunity to secure one of the planks in his five-year plan to rescue the Post Office.

Last week GOP leaders circulated a memo declaring that no bill for highways this summer would negate funding for ongoing construction projects. Cutting Saturday delivery could put $10 billion back into USPS coffers over 10 years, the memo claimed, and avert the necessity for a Postal Service bailout.

Whether or not Cantor remains involved in light of his diminished status, House Republicans will continue to play the postal card in pushing their highway bill, if only to be able to lay blame on the floor of the Senate when they reject the double deal, as expected. “I think there's still a good possibility they House may pass this, even though what they're doing is using one broke institution to finance another,” says Peggy Hudson, SVP of government affairs for the Direct Marketing Association. “But it's a non-starter, because it will never go anywhere in the Senate.”

Hudson's analysis was supported by the reaction of the office of Democratic Senator Tom Carper's office to the GOP's memo. The sponsor of the Senate postal reform bill noted that:

  • Two Blue Ribbon commissions already identified solutions to the highway funding problem not involving postal issues. “We just need to stop kicking the can down the road…and get it done,” read Carper's analysis.
  • The combined bill takes no money away from the Postal Service, as the GOP memo claimed, “because the Postal Service has no money to take.”
  • User fees currently being discussed in the Senate to fund highways “are widely supported,” by truckers, manufacturers, motorists, and state highway departments.

Carper's camp concluded that the Highway Trust Fund-Postal Delivery proposal is nothing but an “accounting gimmick” that assumes a hypothetical Postal service bailout, and that such piecemeal efforts are not what's needed to right the Post Office. “Only bipartisan, comprehensive reform can put the Postal Service back on solid financial footing,” the Carper analysis maintained.

Hudson thinks there's still a possibility that postal reform could get passed this year if the proper spheres fall into alignment. After all, if a political neophyte can topple the House majority leader by 12 percentage points in a primary, anything can happen.

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