Politics

Proposals Would Help Homeowners, Make Ex-Presidents Pay for Office Supplies

Financial Services spending bill amendments also could affect local post offices

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., wants to bar the U.S. Postal Service for expanding its offering of financial services. Other proposed amendments to the Financial Services spending bill would help homeowners with bad foundations. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Local post offices would be barred from offering most banking services, homeowners with crumbling foundations would get some help and ex-presidents would have to pay for their own office supplies under proposals to amend the House’s fiscal 2019 Financial Services spending bill.

Proposed amendments also include some of the usual suspects: keeping the District of Columbia from enforcing certain local laws, allowing federally insured banks to take deposits from companies in the marijuana industry, and barring federal funds from being spent at properties owned by President Donald Trump.

The Financial Services bill is expected to reach the floor this week, paired with the Interior-Environment bill in a two-bill package.

Rep. Patrick T. McHenry is proposing an amendment that would bar the U.S. Postal Service from expanding its offering of financial services, now limited largely to money orders and international money transfers. The amendment from McHenry, R-N.C., who is chief deputy whip for the Republican majority, is the only amendment filed by a member of GOP leadership as of Friday, when 81 amendments had been filed with the Rules Committee to the financial services section.

Financial boost?

Some Democrats and progressive groups back the Postal Service’s branching out into banking as a way to shore up the organization’s financial strength and to deliver banking services to poor customers who often rely on payday lenders for emergency funding.

It’s been an issue since 2014, when the inspector general for the Postal Service published a report suggesting the agency could expand into prepaid cards, savings products and small-dollar loans.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., followed up on that report, arguing that the Postal Service could offer services to households with few or no bank relationships far more cheaply than the check cashing and payday lending industries.

In a letter last month to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, McHenry called it a “terrible idea” for the Postal Service to offer banking services and urged that a task force President Donald Trump formed earlier this year consider barring banking services. The task force is examining Postal Service operations.

“I just want to make clear on congressional intent and congressional intent was for the Postal Service to be the Postal Service, not a financial services conduit,” McHenry said Thursday. “I see where things are heading, where the debate is heading and I want to make clear that that’s not acceptable.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., proposed a bill in April that would allow the Postal Service to provide checking and savings accounts, and small loans. There are more than 30,000 post offices in the U.S.

McHenry’s amendment would bar the Postal Service from spending any of the $308 million appropriation in the House bill on expanding or enhancing its money order and other financial services related businesses.

The amendment would also bar it from launching pilot programs for banking services, including the Service Enhancement and Innovation Task Force created as part of a 2016 agreement with the agency’s union, the American Postal Workers Union. The pilot program envisioned by the task force included considering modernization of the agency’s money order business, expansion of its international money transfers business and the offering of gift cards.

The amendment quickly showed up on the radar of the Campaign for Postal Banking, whose members include progressive groups such as Americans for Financial Reform.

“It seems to be a new effort,” said campaign coordinator Katherine Isaac, who said the coalition was studying the McHenry amendment.

Pyrrhotite Provision

Three amendments dealing with the mineral pyrrhotite are aimed largely at homeowners with crumbling basements in a few dozen Connecticut towns. Two Connecticut Democrats, Reps. Joe Courtney and John B. Larson, are renewing an effort to get language into spending bills related to the mineral that can cause sulfates to form, and crack concrete.

One amendment would provide $100,000 for a Treasury Department study of the impact of pyrrhotite-tainted concrete; one would provide $100,000 for the IRS to assist taxpayers taking a loss because of failing concrete; and another would provide $20 million in additional IRS funding for taxpayer services including implementing guidance issued by the agency on how homeowners can take a casualty loss on their taxes due to pyrrhotite-related damage.

The two lawmakers proposed another amendment for the Interior section of the bill that would provide funding for the U.S. Geological Survey to map “pyrrhotite occurrences.”

Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., proposed an amendment that would strip funding for offices, staff and other expenses provided to both Republican and Democratic former U.S. presidents.

Norman’s amendment would eliminate the $4.8 million proposed for allowances and office expenses for Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and shift those funds to the bill’s spending reduction account.

Some House members unsuccessfully tried to cut funding for the former presidents by 40 percent two years ago despite the impending addition of Obama as the newest former president in fiscal 2017.

The General Services Administration requested an additional $40,000 for the former president in fiscal 2019. Appropriators in both chambers matched the request.

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