Committee leadership taking shape for incoming Congress
One of the first orders of business for lawmakers returning after the mid-term elections was voting on committee leadership posts for the 114th Congress. Those elections were held on Tuesday. With regard to committees of importance to the NALC, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) will no longer chair the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. In a contested race for the post, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) won election to take over as chairman. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) will continue to serve as the ranking member on the committee.
The Subcommittee on Federal Workforce and Postal Service will be led by current chairman Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), and Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) is expected to remain as ranking member. Subcommittee leadership posts and the makeup of committee and subcommittee memberships will be determined when the House returns in December (see below).
With regard to the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Hal Rodgers (R-KY) will remain chairman and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) will remain as ranking member. Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) will remain on as Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee chairman, and Rep. José Serrano (D-NY) will also remain as ranking member.
In the Senate, when Republicans take over control in January, it is expected that Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) will take the lead of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC). During the 113th Congress, he spearheaded a failed amendment to S. 1486 that would have put the Postal Service into bankruptcy and destroy all postal collective-bargaining agreements. The current committee chairman, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), will become the ranking committee member.
Official announcements regarding Senate committee leadership posts and composition are not expected until January, due in large part to the uncertainty regarding the status of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who will face Rep. David Cassidy (R-LA) in a runoff on Dec. 6. The result of that race will have an impact on the makeup of HSGAC, which lost two other Democrats, Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK) and Mark Pryor (D-AR). The GOP has seven incoming new senators, and that also will lead to members’ shifting among Senate committees.
On Thursday, Congress recessed for the Thanksgiving holiday and will return on Dec. 1 to tackle outstanding legislative business, primarily funding the government beyond Dec. 12, when the current continuing resolution (CR) that funds the government now is set to expire. Over the last several weeks, House and Senate appropriators and leaders have been discussing the details and the duration of such a funding measure. Given that the outcome of the elections shifted power in favor of the GOP in the House and Senate beginning in January, there has been much discussion about whether funding will be extended for the short-term, allowing the 114th Congress to immediately set its priorities. Alternatively, the current Congress could provide funding through the end of the fiscal year, which would give the new Congress more time to set its tone and priorities. Most prominent discussion has revolved around the idea of a “CR-omnibus,” which would combine both short-term funding for more contentious issues and long-term funding for others. This would entail passing an omnibus appropriations measure, which combines all annual spending bills into one bill at agreed-upon spending levels.
Before Congress departed for Thanksgiving, President Obama carried out his pledge to take administrative action if the Congress failed to enact immigration reform by the end of the year. He announced an executive order that protects nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation by deferring action on certain categories of children and immigrant parents for three years. Although presidents from both parties over the years have issued similar orders, and although most lawyers agree that the president has the discretion under the law to prioritize deportations, Obama’s announcement has infuriated the Republican party, which is now threatening to use the appropriations process to block the president by withholding the funding needed to enact the administration’s changes. The standoff has resulted in an unclear process for the House and Senate for reaching agreement on funding the government.
What does this mean for letter carriers? The four postal unions have been lobbying to secure moratorium language in whatever funding mechanism moves at the end of the year to prevent the closure and consolidation of 82 mail processing plants in 37 states. NALC and the other postal unions continue to lobby lawmakers on the importance of this language, and we encourage NALC members to continue voicing their concerns over this ill-conceived consolidation idea that would essentially eliminate overnight delivery to communities and create service problems for letter carriers and for our customers.
In addition to appropriations legislation, it is expected that the Senate will take up pending nominations and continue negotiations with the House on some tax extenders.
House committee holds hearing on Postal Service data breach
On Wednesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and the Census Subcommittee held a hearing to discuss the Postal Service data breach that occurred in September. Witnesses included Randy Miskanic, USPS vice president of secure digital solutions; Guy Cottrell, USPS Chief Postal Inspector; Tammy Whitcomb, USPS Deputy Inspector General; Tim Edgar, visiting fellow for the Watson Institute for International Studies; and Captain Charles Hamby, Narcotics Enforcement Division, Prince Georges County Police Department
During the hearing, the Postal Service testified that it was aware of suspicious activity on its network on Sept. 11 and became confident that data was stolen on Oct. 16. However, employees were not notified that their information was stolen until Nov. 10, drawing the ire of subcommittee members for this failure to notify postal employees and their unions for several weeks.
“We need to mandate this, but you have to be more forthcoming with the people that you’re supposed to be protecting than you have been in this case,” said committee ranking member Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA).
The committee also devoted significant discussion and questions to the 2.9 million records of customers who contacted the Postal Service Customer Care Center, which were also compromised. This data did not include sensitive information such as credit card and Social Security numbers. According to testimony before the committee, only names, addresses and phone numbers of customers were obtained by the hackers. The Postal Service indicated that it knew who perpetrated the attack, but that the information is classified. Press reports have pointed fingers at the Chinese government. The Postal Service testified that it has guaranteed its employees one free year of identity theft protection and credit card monitoring.
Messaging to members of Congress on proposed service cuts
For some lawmakers, the solution to the manufactured financial crisis caused by the pre-funding mandate remains eliminating six-day and door delivery and implementing another round of closures and consolidations. As we prepare for the 114th Congress next year, we need to send a strong message to the current Congress that these proposed cuts are not the solution.
So we are making one last push to build support for our long-standing initiatives before Congress adjourns in December. Currently, we have 67 co-sponsors of our door delivery resolution (H. Res. 711). Just as we have done in the past on the six-day resolution (H. Res. 30), we are looking for a strong finish this Congress on this resolution. We need all of our friends on this resolution so that we can send a message to the next Congress that door delivery cuts are off limits.
Please use the remainder of the 113th Congress to contact your House representative and urge him or her to sign on with Rep. Susan Davis’ (D-CA) office. When calling your representative, make it clear that all these proposed cuts would hurt the Postal Service, and urge him or her to voice concerns to House leaders regarding facility closures. We must make it clear that the Postal Service is in fact profitable and that these misguided cuts would not fix, but would hurt, the Postal Service.
Stay tuned for an additional legislative update before December holiday adjournment.