Stop the Frank

Floor Speech

Date: June 8, 2016
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WOODALL. Mr. Speaker, I am slow to come to the floor because you can't compete with a Muhammad Ali commemorative Special Order. That is too much passion to follow. I just have little old legislative business on my mind. I am not talking about changing the world. I am just talking about changing our little part of the world.

I don't know if you remember, Mr. Speaker, when you first got here, you had to go downstairs and sign your name so that we could use that instead of a postage stamp on every piece of mail that you sent out the door. It is called the franking privilege.

I have a bill--it is H.R. 1873--that Tammy Duckworth and I introduced together to abolish that franking privilege. It is not going to take a lot to get that done. It is something that is within the complete control of us here in this institution, but it has been a challenge that is hundreds of years in the making.

I put mine on here, Mr. Speaker. This is my signature there on the front of every envelope I send out. If you want to know how to forge a check in my name, all you need to do is look at any envelope I send out the door.

Back in the day, had we been here in 1817, it might have been hard to find a postage stamp. In the name of getting congressional business done, the law of the land, carried over from England, was that you could sign your name on all of your government documents in order to get that important government business done. You couldn't just walk down to the local grocery store and buy stamps. You had to have a mechanism for getting your constitutional responsibilities accomplished.

We do that still here today. In these cynical times, Mr. Speaker, I would tell you that I hear most often from folks that they think one of two things is going on with the franking privilege: one, that we are involved in some sort of incumbent protection plan--self-promotion here in this institution, self-glorification--by sending our names out on the front of all of the mail that goes out the door. If not that, I hear the second criticism, which is, Rob, why do Members of Congress get free mail? The Postal Service is in dire straits--free mail for all Members of Congress.

It is not free mail. For every letter that goes out the door that reads ``Rob Woodall'' up at the top, I get a bill. I get a bill from the United States Postal Service for what a stamp would have cost had I put it on that letter. For every piece of mail that goes out the door with ``Rob Woodall'' written up at the top, I get a bill from the Postal Service for whatever the bulk rate would have been for the large amounts of mail that I send out the door. It is not free mail for Members of Congress. I want to dispel that myth.

I get all of the emails that I know so many of my colleagues do, which read: ``Go and serve one term in Congress, and get your pension for life.'' Nonsense. Not true. I do get the emails that come in and that talk about the special health care privileges that Congress has and that nobody else can have access to. Come on down, and join the ObamaCare exchange. You can have the same health care privileges that I have. Of all of the myths that go on out there, the myth of free mail continues still today. It is not free mail. We just don't put a stamp on it. Why don't we end this confusion once and for all?

I would like to tell you that this was my brilliant idea--a small idea but my brilliant idea. Not true. We, actually, went down this road in the 1800s. I hold here--Mr. Speaker, you can't read it--an article from The New York Times on March 3, 1875.

It reads:

By a vote of 113-65, the House has concurred in the Senate amendment to the postal appropriations bill partially restoring the franking privilege. The precise extent of this restoration is an allowance of free transmission through the mail on a Congressional frank of the Congressional Record, agricultural reports and seeds, and all public documents now printed or authorized to be printed.

The New York Times, as it is still known for today, goes on to editorialize just a bit:

So far, as our observation goes, there has never been any demand for the restoration of the franking nuisance except on the part of Congressmen. The new men, especially, long for a taste of the sweets of privilege.

This the New York Times in 1875. The ``sweets of privilege'' is how they described the signing of one's name to a constituent's response so you can tell your constituents how it is that you feel about the war in Iraq, so you can tell folks how you feel about the FCC's new regulations, so that you can respond to that young Eagle Scout applicant who wants to get the Citizenship in the Nation merit badge.

We knew in the 1800s that something just didn't seem right about not using stamps like everybody else did. We knew that something didn't feel quite right. For several years, we abolished the franking privilege, and then we brought it back.

I don't have any problem finding stamps, Mr. Speaker. If anybody in this institution has problems finding stamps, I have several local locations that are here by the Capitol. You can send a staffer down to pick up stamps in bulk. For me, I am in the Longworth House Office Building, up on the seventh floor, so I have got to go all the way down to the basement in order to buy my stamps. It is about seven floors away.

They don't do that anywhere else in Washington, D.C. They don't do that. If you are at the IRS and if you need to send out a tax form, you don't sign your name at the top of the letter. If you work over at the Department of Agriculture and if you need to send out a newsletter, you don't sign your name at the top, because everybody else in government uses what is called ``penalty mail.'' It is the same stamp up at the top of a corner that any businessperson would use, that any bulk mail house would use. It is section 3202. It is called ``penalty mail.''

It reads:

Subject to limitations imposed by sections 3204 and 3207 of this title, there may be transmitted as penalty mail official mail of officers of the Government of the United States, the Smithsonian Institution, the Pan-American Union, the Pan- American Sanitary Bureau, the United States Employment Service, and the system of employment offices operated by it in conformity with the provisions of section 4949(c).

Understand that we have a special section in the United States Code that deals with how mail gets out the door, because it is very difficult. We have only been doing it for a couple of hundred years. It requires some special attention from the United States Code, so we have a special section of the Code that allows officers of the Government of the United States, of the Smithsonian Institution, of the Pan-American Union, of the Pan-American Sanitary Bureau, and of the United States Employment Service some special dispensation so they can get mail out the door.

But was that good enough for Congress? The answer is ``no.'' Congress has yet another special exception beyond the special exception, as is highlighted in section A, ``officers of the Government of the United States other than Members of Congress,'' because what we have is our special signature program.

Mr. Speaker, we have got big things we have got to solve in this country--big things we have got to solve. You can't solve those big things when folks believe that you are not telling them the truth about the little things. You have got to build trust with one another. You have got to build trust with one another not just here in this institution but with our constituencies back home; but when people see what they think is free mail that is going out the door, it undermines that trust.

I refer now to the House Manual, Mr. Speaker:

Postal expenses incurred only when the frank is insufficient, such as certified, registered, insured, express, foreign mail, and stamped, self-addressed envelopes related to the recovery of official items, are reimbursable. Postage may not be used in lieu of the frank.

I got to Capitol Hill, Mr. Speaker, and I thought: Do you know what? I know what it is like not to be on Capitol Hill. I am going to go get a bulk mail permit.

They said, No, Rob. You can't get a bulk mail permit to send out mail on Capitol Hill.

I said, Most of what I do isn't bulk mail. I will go buy stamps to send that out.

They said, No, Rob. You can't buy stamps to send out mail. You have to sign your card. You have to put your signature on it. We have to have a special congressional mail privilege for you.

Tammy Duckworth and I--one Republican, one Democrat--say we can do better than that. It is an election year. Do you know what happens in an election year? The law of the land is: you can't send out mail anymore. If I have a town hall meeting that is going on next week, I couldn't have sent out an invitation last month to have invited you to come meet your Congressman. I couldn't have sent out a newsletter last month to have told you what we were doing with the National Defense Authorization Act. I couldn't have sent out a newsletter last month to have told you about an employment and jobs fair program that was going on, because the law of the land so recognizes this privilege as something that incumbents use to boost their election prospects that it is banned in the 90 days before any election.

So I ask you: If this practice is so offensive that we ban it within 90 days before any election, why don't we just do away with it altogether? If it is so offensive that it must be banned for 180 days out of the year, why don't we do away with it for the other 180 days, too?

I don't need my name on the front of every letter that goes out the door, and I don't need someone to protect me from the challenges of buying stamps; but I have rules in place that prevent postage from being used in lieu of the frank.

I serve on the Budget Committee, Mr. Speaker. I want to balance the Federal budget. We are not going to do it with this bill. I am the lead sponsor of the FairTax. It is the most fundamental reconstruction of our Tax Code that has happened since the income tax came into being in the early 1900s. It is the most prominently cosponsored piece of fundamental tax reform legislation in this body. Those are serious pieces of legislation. This is something minor--this is around the edges--but the National Taxpayers Union has seen fit to say that repealing the so-called ``franking privilege'' is a simple reform to introduce pay-as-you-go budgeting. It is absolutely right. Public Citizen hardly supports the Woodall-Duckworth legislation to rein in the abuse of taxpayer-funded franked mail.

I want to do the big things together, and I want to do the things that matter together. When silly things like this undermine the sacred trust that we have with our constituents, they need to go. Our colleagues who served in this body in the 1870s knew it. They abolished it, but they just couldn't let it go, and they brought it back. Even The New York Times asked: Where was the outcry for free congressional mail? Why was it brought back yet again?

I tried to get this done on my own. I say to my colleagues that I didn't want to waste your time in this way. I tried to go to the Chief Administrative Office to see if I could just get an exception so I didn't have to send out this mail. I tried to go through the House Administration Committee to see if there was some sort of dispensation so that I could opt out of this system. I tried to go through the Office of the Speaker to see if my MRA could be spent in a different way so I didn't have to perpetuate this. Again, it is a practice that is, apparently, so hideous it is outlawed for 180 days out of the year; but I couldn't get any of those things done.

Now it has come down to us to pass that simple line of code. It is a bipartisan bill--Rob Woodall, Tammy Duckworth, a host of other cosponsors. I invite you to join me to abolish the franking privilege. You are welcome to use our hashtag of ``Stop the Frank'' any time you feel like you can move that forward. We are not going to reestablish trust overnight, but with one little accountability action at a time, we can do it. Let's do this little one today. Let's show up again and do another one and tomorrow and do another one and the next day and do another one and the next day and do another one. Then we are going to wake up a year from now or a month from now or a week from now, and we are going to find out that we have really made a difference together.

Foxx), my friend from the Rules Committee. Skills Gap


Mr. WOODALL. If my colleagues don't know, one is used to seeing the gentlewoman from North Carolina leading on the Education and the Workforce Committee. All day today, she has been leading on the Rules Committee--chairing those actions that are going on up there. I hoped she was here to file a rule to tell us that that process had been moved right along, but we will have to wait for that.