April 8 | This Week In Government: Biden Signs USPS Bill Peters Helped Spearhead; Stamas Expects Movement On Budget Bills By April’s EndApril 8, 2022
- Biden Signs USPS Bill Peters Helped Spearhead
- Stamas Expects Movement On Budget Bills By April’s End
- Senators Look To Help In Training Nurses To Combat Shortage
- Weiser To Leonard: Consider Challenging Kildee
- Redistricting, Rightward Shift Of GOP Seen As Guiding Upton Decision
The U.S. Postal Service would need to guarantee a six-day-a-week delivery schedule under legislation signed into law by President Joe Biden on Wednesday, capping work on changes U.S. Sen. Gary Peters helped lead to final passage.
As signed, what has been dubbed an overhaul of the USPS guarantees six-day-a-week mail delivery and eliminates a controversial requirement that it finance employees’ health care benefits out for the upcoming 75 years.
The method of funding health care for employees is a method not used in other federal departments or agencies and was one of several reasons for the red ink at the USPS for more than 10 consecutive years. Another reason for red ink at the USPS has been mail volumes dropping for years.
“This bill recognizes the Postal Service as a public service and we’re ensuring that it can continue to serve all Americans for generations to come,” Biden said during a bill signing ceremony Wednesday.
The USPS drew widespread criticism in 2020 when the postmaster general implemented changes and proposed others to operation that were considered unlawful ahead of the November 2020 elections. Fears the changes could slow mail delivery and impact the arrival of absentee voter ballots was a key concern at the time given the increased demand for absentee voting during the coronavirus pandemic when there was not yet any vaccines available.
The possibility of causing delays of people obtaining critical items on which they rely through the mail including prescription medicines was also a huge concern at the time.
Peters (D-Bloomfield Township), chair of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, pressed the postmaster general on the issue in 2020.
In 2021 he introduced legislation similar to what was signed by the president Wednesday, with a House version being the bill that became law. He led the effort to usher the bill that was passed through the U.S. Senate.
“For nearly 250 years, the United States Postal Service has worked to deliver essential mail to businesses and households all across this nation,” Peters said in a statement. “However, in recent years we saw how unfair policies forced this treasured institution to cut costs and delayed the delivery of medication, financial documents, and other critical mail. These long overdue reforms will undo these burdensome financial requirements, save the Postal Service billions of dollars to help prevent future cuts that harm service, and ensure this public institution is accountable and transparent to the American people.”
Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes praised the work of Peters, U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) and the president in a statement.
“Michiganders rely on our postal system every day for many needs – from prescription medications to social security checks to voting – and this much-needed bill ensures that folks in every corner of our state receive the packages and letters they need,” Barnes said.
The bill signed Wednesday drew wide bipartisan support, passing the U.S. House by a 342-92 vote and the U.S. Senate by a 79-19 margin.
The chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee said Wednesday budget work has been going well thus far, with his hope being to move the Senate’s budget proposals over to the House sometime later this month.
Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland) said in an interview his plan is to speak with his budget subcommittee chairs next week when the Legislature returns and possibly get individual budgets moving to the full appropriations committee the following week.
He said if the two chambers can get their budget proposals sent across the hallway of the Capitol in late April that would set the table for next month’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference.
Of completing budget work, Stamas said that could be done in June or early July if lawmakers stayed “on track.”
The Legislature enacted a self-imposed July 1 statutory budget deadline, but there are no penalties for missing that deadline. An October 1 constitutional beginning of the fiscal year in effect is still the official deadline.
Stamas said he would like to keep as close to the July 1 statutory-imposed deadline as possible.
Last year the Legislature passed the K-12 budget before going on its summer recess, with appropriations leaders and the administration using the summer months for negotiations on the broader budget. It took until late August last year for budget targets to be reached, with the budget signed in late September.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget proposal unveiled in February contained $74.1 billion ($14.3 billion General Fund) in proposed spending, prompting Stamas to remark: “All I’ve got to say is: Damn,” when seeing the sheer scale of the budget as compared to its size years ago during the Great Recession.
His counterpart, House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) was not impressed with the proposal at that time, calling it structurally unsound.
Stamas had few specifics as to where the biggest areas of difference are between lawmakers and the administration on the budget.
He did point to ongoing consideration of what, if anything, might be possible to negotiate on for at least suspending the tax of motor fuels.
“That’s probably one of the bigger outstanding things at this point,” Stamas said.
Whitmer vetoed a legislative proposal to suspend the 27.2 cents per gallon fuel tax last week, which would not have gone into effect until March 2023 given that Senate Democrats had denied immediate effect when it passed the chamber.
Negotiations on the fuel tax may be possible. If that were to happen and be successful, Stamas said the impact on the budget would be an important consideration when crafting the final product.
Adding to the juggling act of crafting budgets last year and this year has been how to spend billions in surplus funds that came into the state’s coffers during the coronavirus pandemic. There have also been several supplemental appropriations packages that have been negotiated over the past year to spend some of the billions in federal funds provided to the state for pandemic recovery efforts and to put into things including statewide infrastructure upgrades.
When asked if the work on multiple large supplemental appropriations proposals has potentially built some momentum among the various sides in budget talks, Stamas would not speak for others but said: “I feel it has.”
He said Albert and Budget Director Chris Harkins have been good partners in work on the recent supplementals and his hope is that continues during the ongoing budget process.
Two senators are planning on pushing a proposal they say can help with the state’s shortage of nurses: incentivize those who can help train nursing students so that more can enter the field more quickly.
The plan is outlined under two virtually identical bills, SB 998 and SB 999, which are to be formally introduced by Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and Sen. Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington) when the Legislature returns next week.
Under the bills, state income tax law would be changed to allow incentives for individuals who perform the duties of a preceptor, or someone who helps train a doctor, nurse or physician’s assistant during their required clinical rotations.
A tax credit of $1,000 would be provided to preceptors for every 250 hours that they serve in that capacity to help those completing their training and licensure requirements.
Tax credits would be capped at $5,000 per year for those who serve in the role. Those who participate would be eligible for the tax credits for the tax year beginning January 1, 2022, through December 31, 2026.
Irwin said the proposed legislation is an effort “to try and help people to help smooth out the process of getting their training done.”
He said he was approached by individuals concerned about not being able to find a preceptor to help them complete their training.
The senator explained that in recent years there has been a shift toward making nursing students and physician’s assistants pay for preceptors to help them, something that traditionally has been free. There are also concerns over being able to find someone to help as a preceptor to volunteer their time in more rural areas compared to larger communities with major health systems.
“Tacking on another expense just makes it that much harder,” Irwin.
With the coronavirus pandemic there has been an exodus of medical professionals over issues primarily relating to burnout.
Irwin said he believed if the bills were taken up quickly it would also have a rapid impact on getting more professionals into the field.
“Health care access is a problem,” he said. “It seems a to be a reasonable way to solve this problem.”
Michigan Republican Party Chair Ron Weiser in an interview Wednesday confirmed that he had spoken to former House Speaker and GOP attorney general candidate Tom Leonard about seeking the party’s nomination to run against U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint).
Speaking to Gongwer News Service, Weiser said he had a private conversation with Leonard about his attorney general bid and the potential he could have in race against Kildee.
On Wednesday afternoon, news broke that Weiser may have also asked Leonard to exit or move aside from his current attorney general bid, making way for Matthew DePerno, the attorney who has championed false claims about the 2020 election and has the enthusiastic support of former President Donald Trump. The story was first reported by The Detroit News.
A spokesperson for the party, however, denied that was the case.
However, the revelation that Weiser – who has a reputation for encouraging candidates at conventions to bow out – had raised the idea of Leonard running for Congress implicitly connotes that he would then give up his attorney general bid.
Leonard’s opponents for the nomination – determined at a convention rather than a primary, like the gubernatorial race – are DePerno and state Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Township).
Several legislators in the House and Senate and several more organizations throughout the Republican strata have endorsed Mr. Leonard, who ran but narrowly lost in 2018 to current Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel.
The grassroots wing of the party appears to be vehemently behind DePerno, who has vowed to relitigate and investigate unproven theories of fraud in the 2020 election and has said he would prosecute Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson for various perceived crimes.
A schism formed between the establishment wing’s support for Leonard and the party’s base backing DePerno when former President Donald Trump recently announced that he would be supporting the latter’s candidacy. MIGOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock followed suit, endorsing not only DePerno but also secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo – another candidate anointed with Trump’s blessing.
The pair appeared alongside the former president Saturday at a rally in rural Washington Township.
In the midst of brewing divisions, county conventions scheduled for Monday and a widening chasm between Leonard and DePerno supporters, news that Weiser may have put his thumb on the scale of the race was the latest sign that Mr. DePerno appears the favorite. It also could add to the potential for fractious county conventions Monday charged with electing delegates to the state endorsement convention later this month.
Speaking to Gongwer by phone, Weiser did not say he asked Leonard to leave the race but did confirm that he spoke to him about his chances in a race against Kildee.
The former House speaker and attorney’s hometown is DeWitt and does not live in the new 8th U.S. House District, which replaces the current 5th District and contains Flint and Kildee’s hometown. However, it is not a requirement that a candidate for a congressional district live in the district, although it is advantageous to do so. Leonard does have some connections to Genesee County. He was born in Flint, grew up in Montrose and was a Genesee County assistant prosecuting attorney.
MIGOP spokesperson Gustavo Portela further acknowledged that Weiser had a conversation with Leonard walking him through his potential options outside of an attorney general race, given Trump’s “massive influence with convention delegates.”
“To be clear, there was no nudge, no push or pressure to get Tom Leonard to switch races and run for Congress,” Portela said. “Anything to the contrary is simply false. The chairman is actively engaged and talks to many candidates up and down the ballot. It’s appropriate for a party chair to walk candidates he believes are good and holds in high regard through all their options in order to best position the party to defeat Democrats across Michigan.”
Over the phone, Weiser, too, said that what he is most interested in is making sure Republicans win across the board in the 2022 elections. Portela similarly said that this conversation was not a sign that the chairman or party leaders were working behind the scenes to sway the convention.
“Convention delegates can expect the party to conduct a fair election, where the delegates – not party leaders – will select the party’s nominees for various statewide offices as it’s been done in prior conventions,” Portela added.
Speculation about whether the chair tried to sway the race here or races in the past, however, has followed him during the more recent years of Weiser’s post as the state party’s leader.
Weiser tried to convince Tonya Schuitmaker in 2018 to drop her bid for attorney general and run for secretary of state instead to clear the way for Leonard as the attorney general nominee. She rejected the idea and lost a close, tough race to Leonard.
In February 2020, then-party chair Laura Cox accused Weiser of paying a substantial sum of money to Stan Grot to drop out of the 2018 secretary of state race, ostensibly for the purpose of performing party work. He dropped out of the race.
Weiser insisted then that the allegations were baseless, and were viewed by some as a means for Cox to reignite her re-election bid to the post after initially saying she would not seek re-election. Delegates chose Weiser and Maddock to lead the party over Cox’s ticket.
In the months that followed, the Michigan Republican Party would pay a $200,000 conciliatory fee to resolve the allegations made by Cox, covered by Weiser personally by contributing that amount to the MIGOP.
The agreement, and the repayment, served in lieu of an admission of guilt or wrongdoing, outlined in a conciliation agreement and shared publicly by the Department of State on the Campaign Finance Disclosure portion of its website. And the contract between the party and Grot, revealed as part of the conciliation agreement, essentially said that Weiser had, in fact, provided Grot with the job to drop his secretary of state bid.
When asked about his critics who say he has exhibited a pattern of manipulating other races, and if he agreed with speculation that he may be meddling in the race, Weiser rebuffed such comments.
“I’m not meddling in any races,” Weiser told Gongwer. He further reiterated that he and party leaders – save for Ms. Maddock, who has indeed endorsed preferred candidates – were neutral in all Republican races until delegates and voters have their say. That was not true, Weiser said, of certain university board of regents races, as Weiser, who serves on University of Michigan’s board, said he was partial to candidates who would be best suited to serve alongside him on those boards.
Asked about the conversation or if Leonard had any plans to step aside, campaign spokesperson Jerry Ward said no.
“Our campaign is not going to discuss details of a private conversation in the press,” Ward said in a statement. “Let me be clear: Nobody will push Tom Leonard out of this race. From day one, Tom’s goal has been to defeat Dana Nessel. He looks forward to making that happen as the Republican nominee.”
Some of his supporters also said that Leonard should stay in the race, and that decision should be his and his alone.
“I don’t know why Ron’s getting mixed up in that,” said Rep. Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming) in an interview. “Anyone who runs, it takes a lot of courage. And I’m supporting Tom. He was my first-term speaker. He’s a man of his word. I’m supporting him 100 percent.”
A source close to the Republican caucus in the Senate said that such a conversation would be surprising, given Leonard’s support for Weiser’s candidacy for chair of the party and having served as Weiser’s finance chair.
This source also said that despite the push by Trump, the growing grassroots support for DePerno and whatever conversation transpired between the candidate and the party chair, they believe Leonard will have the edge over his opponents and ascend to the party’s nominee for attorney general.
U.S. Rep. Fred Upton’s retirement means the once highly anticipated primary between himself and U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga for the newly redrawn 4th U.S. House District will not come to fruition, leaving many to speculate on Tuesday how much redistricting and the rightward shift of the Republican Party affected Upton’s decision.
Upton (R-St. Joseph) served 36 years in Congress and joins the likes of former Congressional leaders U.S. Rep. John Dingell, U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and US. Rep. Sander Levin in serving more than 30 years on behalf of Michigan.
A faction of Republicans in his southwest Michigan district has always chafed at Upton, recalling his unseating the religious firebrand Mark Siljander in the 1986 Republican primary. Those forces seemed to finally overtake Upton in the last 16 months.
In his speech, Upton opened with the lesson of bipartisanship which he learned from working with former President Ronald Reagan, saying Reagan worked both sides of the aisle and cared less about who got the credit.
“And I made a promise that such a principle would be my guiding light, especially in these days of divided government,” Upton said. “That is the only way one can actually get legislation enacted.”
He also called his constituents “the salt of the earth,” and said he loved them even if some of them did not feel the same.
Upton was one of the few Republicans to vote in favor of impeaching former President Donald Trump and in favor of removing U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) from all committee assignments in 2021. Upton also voted to impeach former President Bill Clinton in 1998, making him the only U.S. representative to vote to impeach a president twice.
Following his impeachment vote of Trump, Upton received backlash from some of his constituents and others within the Republican party and was even subject to death threats from far-right extremists. However, Upton is no stranger to being coined as “not conservative enough,” and has defeated every competitor for all 18 elections.
Former Sen. John Proos, who represented many of the same counties as Upton and was once his deputy chief of staff, said he understood Upton felt very strongly about Trump’s statements when he voted to impeach him.
“He looked at what had happened on January 6, and was concerned if there wasn’t accountability for the actions of some that day, there would be more damage to the integrity of our democracy,” Proos said.
Nearly every source Gongwer News Service contacted said it was most likely redistricting that forced Upton to retire. Proos said while he does not have any inside knowledge to what Upton’s decision making was, he does know that redistricting made it much more challenging for him.
Upton lost the southern part of his district though he kept the core of his base running from St. Joseph to Kalamazoo County. But the move to include southern Ottawa County, where Huizenga lives, and no other realistic option for Huizenga to run, meant Upton would be facing for the first time since 1986 a serious, well-funded challenge for the GOP nomination.
Upton also said his family obligations played a huge role in his decision to retire.
Jason Watts, political consultant and Allegan County Republican Party secretary, said Upton would not only have been reelected but would have served as long as Dingell.
As far as the future of the party, Watts said Upton’s retirement does not necessarily mean one thing or the other for Republicans.
“I think this is a sad loss for Michigan in terms of seniority,” Watts said. “You look at what this country has received through Fred’s leadership, the 21st Century Cures Act, probably some of the most dynamic … legislation were passed under the watch of his chairmanship”
Proos on the other hand said the Republican Party today is still grappling with Trump’s years in office and what the future will look like for the party.
Trump endorsed Huizenga for the redrawn 4th U.S. House District, motivated by his personal dislike of Upton.
“UPTON QUITS! 4 down and 6 to go. Others losing badly, who’s next?” Trump said in a brief statement upon the news of Upton’s retirement.
Ten U.S. House Republicans voted to impeach Trump.
Huizenga also released a statement which reflected his respect for the longtime representative.
“I want to thank Fred for his commitment, service, and dedication to Michigan over the years. Fred and I have worked together on a host of issues including prioritizing the protection of the Great Lakes, leveling the playing field for Michigan agriculture, and supporting efforts to clean up PFAS and lead contamination,” Huizenga said in a statement. “Fred’s statesman-like legacy will be remembered both in Michigan and our nation’s capital. I wish both he and Amey the best as they start their next chapter.”
Trump retains a strong hold on rank-and-file Republicans.
There has been much speculation if Huizenga’s Trump endorsement and Upton’s vote to impeach contributed to Upton retiring.
While it is unclear how impactful the endorsement was, a Republican source speaking on background said their understanding was that some polling showed Huizenga far ahead of Upton overall and in favorability among Republicans in the district. The source said it appeared Upton would have faced a difficult primary to say the least if he had chosen to run for another term.
However, sources told Gongwer they thought there were many other reasons why voters would not come out for Upton like they have in the past.
Van Buren County Republican Party Chair John Pryzgocki said there might have been a pervasive feeling that it was time for Upton to retire. He said at least from a Van Buren County perspective, most people are glad that he served, but there were traditional policy issues that Upton took certain stances on with which his constituents did not agree.
“There are some people who are upset about his vote in terms of the president, but I think it’s more so that his overall conservative policy, I don’t think everyone felt they were represented as well as they’d like to be,” Pryzgocki said.
Berrien County Republican Party Chair Denny Grosse said Upton has been very good to the district and voters will miss him. However, he echoed similar sentiments as Pryzgocki, saying Upton is more moderate and both parties seem to be moving in a more partisan direction.
“That did hurt him, and I know there were some people who weren’t happy at all with what he did,” Grosse said of Upton’s vote to impeach.