Government affairs

Legislative Updates

Congressional week in review and look ahead

Lawmakers are back in Washington DC following a full August Recess for the House and a very limited one for the Senate after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) sought to keep the upper chamber in session and vulnerable senators off the campaign trail for much of the month.

With an eye toward election day on November 6, the House plans to be in session through October 12 while the Senate remains until October 26 before they head back to their respective states and districts to finish up campaigning. Now that they are back on Capitol Hill, however, Congress has just eleven days with both chambers in session to complete their work before the end of the month and the fiscal year.

First, we should review the headlines from the last week in August.

Senate Activity

On August 28, the Senate confirmed the nominations of David Williams (D) and Robert Duncan (R) to serve as members of USPS’s Board of Governors, each for one term. As letter carriers know, the USPS Board of Governors consists of eleven members, nine governors and two ex officio members, the Postmaster General and the Deputy Postmaster General. Until now, all nine positions were vacant since December 2016. With two governors now confirmed, two more are needed for a quorum.

On the same day, the White House announced its intent to nominate two more individuals to USPS’s Board of Governors, Ron Bloom and Roman Martinez IV. To be confirmed, they will need to appear for confirmation hearings before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs (HSGAC). If approved by the Committee, their appointments will be subject to a confirmation vote by the whole Senate. There is no word on when the two nominees’ hearing will be scheduled, however.

Administration Activity

On August 30, the President announced he would rescind a scheduled pay increase for federal employees in 2019. This goes against a planned 1.9 percent pay raise in the Senate’s FY19 FSGG appropriations bill. Should Congress approve the pay raise in its appropriations bills, it would nullify Trump’s actions. (The pay freeze does not apply to the Postal Service and its unions.)

On August 23, President Trump issued a policy memorandum providing directions to the State Department for negotiations over international postage pricing at an upcoming meeting of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), the United Nations organization that sets international postage rates and regulates the flow of international shipping between 192 nations. The memorandum calls on the State Department to improve the UPU’s system of “terminal dues,” the fees postal operators like the U.S. Postal Service charge for delivering mail from other operators and to negotiate changes in customs procedures for postal shipments to match those that apply to private shippers under different treaties.

Judicial Activity

On August 25, a federal judge invalidated key provisions in three executive orders the Trump administration issued in May, which had made it easier for agencies to fire federal workers and placed strict limits on union activities. (The orders did not apply to the Postal Service and its unions.)

Look Ahead (September 4 and beyond)

The top priority for both the House and the Senate remains FY19 Appropriations. Lawmakers are scrambling to finish work before an end-of-the-month deadline to avoid a government shutdown. The Senate stayed in session throughout much of the August Recess and have now passed nine of twelve individual appropriations bills while the House has to play catch-up, having only passed six of twelve.

The Senate is also focused on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who begins his confirmation hearings this week to replace the recently retired Justice Anthony Kennedy.

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