By Jon Street | Vermont Watchdog
BURLINGTON, Vt. — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders says he’s worried the U.S. Postal Service is running out of cash, but he may be worried more about his own campaign cash.
In a March 4 editorial published in the Wall Street Journal, Sanders, a Vermont independent, called the USPS one of the country’s most important government agencies.
“It supports millions of jobs in virtually every other sector of our economy. It provides decent-paying union jobs to some 500,000 Americans, and it is the largest employer of veterans,” he wrote.
For Sanders, however, these “decent-paying union jobs” translate into high-paying campaign supporters.
Since Sanders was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1990 and then the U.S. Senate in 2006, labor unions with ties to the USPS have ranked among the top financial supporters of his political campaigns.
The American Postal Workers Union has given $36,200 since 1992. The National Association of Letter Carriers has dumped $50,000 into Sanders’ campaign coffers since the same year. These numbers are according to OpenSecrets.org, which gathers its data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
When asked to respond, Sally Davidow, an APWU spokesperson, told Vermont Watchdog, “We don’t direct (Sanders’) work as a senator, certainly… We’re not a special interest or big money organization. We represent working people, blue collar people who go to work every day, work an eight-hour shift, punch a clock — regular working folks.”
Now that Sanders appears to be flirting with a possible 2016 presidential run, he could be looking to cash in even more with post office labor unions.
As recently as March 6, Sanders said during an interview with The Nation, “I am prepared to run for president of the United States. I don’t believe that I am the only person out there who can fight this fight, but I am certainly prepared to look seriously at that race.”
In an attempt to distinguish himself from the widely anticipated run of presumed 2016 Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, Sanders ironically pointed out during the same interview he has no need for “big money interests.”
The senator went on in his Wall Street Journal piece to criticize those who are suggesting a restructuring of the USPS.
“Yet the Postal Service is under constant and vicious attack. Why? The answer is simple. There are very powerful and wealthy special interests who want to privatize or dismember virtually every function that government now performs … They see an opportunity for Wall Street and corporate America to make billions in profits out of these services, and couldn’t care less how privatization or a degradation of services affects ordinary Americans,” Sanders said.
Despite what “anti-government forces” have said about the billions of dollars in debt the USPS has managed to rack up, Sanders labeled the idea of a “financial crisis” at the post office as “manufactured” and “not true.”
“At the insistence of the Bush administration, Congress in 2006 passed legislation that required the Postal Service to prefund, over a 10-year period, 75 years of future retiree health benefits. This onerous and unprecedented burden — $5.5 billion a year — is responsible for all of the financial losses posted by the Postal Service since October 2012,” Sanders wrote, calling for an end to such long-term prefunding.
Jeffrey Williamson, executive vice president of the USPS, discredited that claim before a House subcommittee March 13.
The “root cause” for the postal service’s financial instability, Williamson told the panel, is the size of its retiree health benefit payments. Those are costs associated with the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.
Even if Congress passes legislation to ease the long-term burden of prefunding retiree health benefits, as Sanders concluded would return the agency to annual profits, Williamson said health benefit costs would still be too high.
Sanders’ office didn’t respond to numerous calls and emails. The National Association of Letter Carriers didn’t provide a comment on the record.
Contact Jon Street at firstname.lastname@example.org and find him on Twitter @JonStreet.