President Donald Trump said Friday that he would not approve any bailout for the U.S. Postal Service unless it dramatically increases its prices.
The Postal Service, which Trump called "a joke," has warned of its serious financial distress for years. But with the U.S. economy staggered by the coronavirus, USPS reported a 30 percent decrease in volume. The service has requested as much as $75 billion in cash, loans and grants to stay afloat.
While Treasury Secretary Steven Mnunchin said he is working with USPS on a loan authorized through coronavirus relief legislation, Trump jumped in and accused the agency of being “cozy” with big corporations, causing it to lose money when delivering packages for Amazon and other online retailers.
“The post office, if they raised the price of a package by approximately four times, it would be a whole new ballgame,” the president said during the signing ceremony for the latest coronavirus relief package. “But they don’t want to raise it because they don’t want to insult Amazon, and they don’t want to insult other companies, perhaps, that they like. The post office should raise the price of the packages to the companies. Not to the people, to the companies. If they did that, it would be a whole different story.”
Mnuchin agreed with Trump, adding that there will be certain criteria for a postal reform program as part of the loan agreement. But Trump said he would “go a step further.”
“If they don’t raise the price, I’m not signing anything,” Trump said. “So they’ll raise the price, so they become more profitable, but so they lose much less money. If they don’t do it, I’m not signing anything, and I’m not authorizing you to do anything, Steve.”
Mark Dimondstein, the president of the American Postal Workers Union, on Friday said Trump's comments reveal his "true intentions" to "force a crisis at the Post Office so that his political benefactors at the corporate shippers can increase their company profits at the expense of the people."
"His comments are an insult to the forty-four postal workers who have died carrying out their vital public service in the midst of this pandemic," the statement said. "It’s also disheartening to the 600,000 proud postal workers who continue to the carry out our essential mission to the country at a time when the public needs reliable and affordable postal services more than ever."
The Package Coalition, a lobbying group formed in response to the president's attacks on USPS and Amazon, also issued a statement condemning Trump's "threat" against USPS. The coalition includes businesses like Amazon, eBay, the National Retail Federation, Express Scripts and others.
“President Trump’s threat to impose a package tax forcing the Postal Service to arbitrarily quadruple costs for package delivery will only raise prices for consumers, raise prices for small businesses and raise prices for rural communities," the statement said. "Now, when Americans need affordable and reliable package delivery service more than ever, Congress must fight to guarantee emergency relief for the Postal Service and stop this package tax.”
Trump’s rhetoric, linking USPS to Amazon, is nothing new. He has slammed Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for years, accusing his company of scamming USPS. Bezos, in addition to owning Amazon, also owns The Washington Post, a newspaper whose coverage has long been a source of frustration for the media-obsessed president.
“While we are on the subject, it is reported that the U.S. Post Office will lose $1.50 on average for each package it delivers for Amazon. That amounts to Billions of Dollars,” the president posted on Twitter in March 2018. In the second tweet, he added: “This Post Office scam must stop. Amazon must pay real costs (and taxes) now!”
The debate over post office bailouts doesn't stop with Trump’s hostility toward the subject. While Democrats made the relief money a priority in the fourth coronavirus package, Republicans in Congress snubbed the idea — instead looking to put more money toward the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday told reporters that the USPS is a “necessary connection to the American people” who utilize it to get medicine, packages and for communication. She said she sees a “very big danger” in Republicans and the Trump administration’s interest in privatizing the post office — a notion she said the American people should be “aware of and reject.”
“People think it’s because the president wants to come after Amazon — whatever it is. But I think that it predates that. I think it is privatization because they’re anti-governance. And that’s who they are, and that’s a legitimate debate to have in our country, and we will have it.”
As Pelosi walked away from the podium, she turned back to add that there was some bipartisan support in the Senate for USPS fiscal relief.
“But the White House, and they tell me it came right from the president: no money for the Post Office,” Pelosi said.
The president struck a more positive tone on Twitter on Friday afternoon, posting that he "will never let our Post Office fail."
"It has been mismanaged for years, especially since the advent of the internet and modern-day technology," he wrote. "The people that work there are great, and we're going to keep them happy, healthy and well!"