Robbins: Can the president defund the post office?
Um … how should I phrase this?
Ah, I’ve got it. No.
OK, now, let’s move on.
Well, before we do, let me at least equivocate little. Instead of no, he can’t, let’s make it no, he shouldn’t. And maybe, can’t.
Despite the president’s recent bloviating to the contrary, the federal purse strings are not clutched in the Grand Poohbah’s hands. Instead, those particular financial strings are puppeted by Congress.
The Grand Cleaver of the Constitution dictates that there shall be — and shall be maintained — separation of powers. The legislative branch may do this, the judicial branch may do that, and the executive branch, of which the president is the head, may do the other. Never, however, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, the twain shall meet. But that’s not always quite so strict as it may sound.
The way it works is this: The president submits a budget to Congress by the first Monday in February every year. It’s sort of a Punxsutawney Phil celebratory event. The budget contains estimates of federal government income and spending for the upcoming fiscal year and also recommends funding levels for the federal government.
Congress must then pass appropriations bills based on the president’s recommendations and Congressional priorities. If Congress does not pass all appropriations measures by the start of the fiscal year (October 1), it has to enact a continuing resolution to keep the government running.
So there’s that to think about.
The ‘postal clause’
What else there is is that little rascal known as the United States Constitution which provides, in that part relevant to our topic, in a section known — not entirely unsurprisingly — as the “postal clause” for post offices and postal roads. Specifically, that clause, found at Article I, Section 8, Clause 7, empowers Congress “To establish Post Offices and Post Roads.”
As simple and as elegant as that.
So let’s take stock of our cards before the “turn.”
Congress sets the budget and Congress — not the president — is charged with the establishment of post offices and postal intercourse via highways and byways and, increasingly, by air.
So why at this propitious pandemic-saturated moment do I raise the postal service?
Well, it’s this.
You see the president has got himself worked up into a tizzy about mail-in voting in the upcoming presidential sweep (and veep-) stakes. He has it in the labyrinthine warrens of his mind that vote-by-mail will undermine him. And therefore, he opposes it.
However malformed one might suspect it may be, I suppose that he’s entitled to his opinion. Notwithstanding the late president John Adams’ wary observation that “facts are stubborn things,” this is America after all where one can half-bake and believe whatever one’s particular demons may direct.
But I digress.
With his undies thusly in a bunch, the president, in a rare nanosecond of transparency, recently revealed to Fox Business that he would move both heaven and earth to block additional funding and election assistance for the U.S. Postal Service in order to sabotage mail-in voting. What he said, precisely, was this, “They want $25 billion — billion — for the post office. Now they need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. “But,” he added, “if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting.”
Trump can’t do this directly
Rarely has this president been so candid.
In Trumpworld, what the president said amounted to spiking the contemptuous football.
But here’s the thing. Besides the utter impropriety of the president, like a downfield lineman, blocking ballots, and besides him throwing the weight of the presidency around for such unabashed political purposes, he … um … can’t. And least he can’t directly.
But could he veto funding for the postal service?
Well, maybe. But rather than a football what he might then have is a boomerang that smacks his in the tush when he disenfranchises this base along with his suspected rivals.
By some tortured tactics, maybe.
Should he throw this particular Hail Mary?
Nah. Not by a long shot.
Only time and the ciphering of political tea leaves will ultimately tell.
One thing, though, is for sure. This president is like a box of chocolates. In the immortal words of Forrest Gump, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”