We know that Mr. Trump is deliberately sowing fear that the Postal Service cannot deliver mail-in ballots, which are necessary for safe voting during the pandemic, without $25 billion in congressional funding — aid House Democrats support but he does not. That claim is untrue, as the Postal Service itself has said, but the president doesn’t care because his interest is in delegitimizing the election. Nor is it necessarily true that Mr. DeJoy’s reforms would have affected the election, though you can hardly blame Democrats for saying so, given Mr. Trump’s rhetoric.
In any case, Mr. DeJoy has somewhat defused a crisis of confidence by promising to halt the cost-cutting measures through November. That provides a benchmark for continued oversight, which Congress must not hesitate to provide over the coming months. State governments also are now on notice that voters need sufficient time to obtain and mail absentee ballots. Of all the ways to prevent slow mail from disenfranchising voters, realistic state deadlines are among those Mr. Trump cannot influence, and states should pursue the necessary legislative and administrative changes urgently.
What we have also learned — or relearned — is that, whether you agree or disagree with Mr. DeJoy’s approach, the financial stress at the Postal Service is real. Beset by declining first-class mail volume, due to the rise of competing communications technology and unfunded pension and retiree health-care liabilities, USPS cannot go on much longer without reforms to its business model of a magnitude only Congress can provide.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform actually approved a first round of reform, on a bipartisan basis, in early 2017. The measure would have addressed two key financial weaknesses of the Postal Service: its inability to charge adequate prices and a congressional mandate to pre-fund several billion dollars’ worth of retiree health benefits each year. On the latter point, the bill would have moved postal retirees from the federal employees’ health plan to Medicare, slashing unfunded liabilities without a substantial reduction in benefits, and at a cost to Medicare of less than $1 billion per year. Though business and unions backed it, the bill died — and now Congress is being forced to consider a taxpayer bailout, just as the bill’s sponsors predicted. A principal author of the 2017 legislation was the late representative Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.). A renewed, and successful, effort to pass it at last would be a fitting memorial to him.