Congress first passed a post office naming law in 1967, to honor former Rep. Charles Buckley of New York, a onetime chairman of the House Committee on Public Works. Over the decades, naming post offices became an increasingly popular way for federal lawmakers to commemorate celebrities and pay tribute to war veterans. The practice reached a peak under the Democratic-controlled Congress that Boehner excoriated in his AEI speech. At that point, the mention of naming post offices had become a common setup for the punch line "your tax dollars at work."
After the 2010 Republican takeover, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee instituted a rule that the naming of post offices "shall be conducted so as to minimize the time spent on such matters by the committee and the House of Representatives." The committee also issued a Dear Colleague letter outlining stricter policies for considering the measures, which included this recommendation: "In order to efficiently utilize the time and resources of the Committee and the House, postal facility naming bills will be considered once every two or three months."
But when I recently asked Jason Chaffetz, the current chair of the Oversight Committee, about post-office-renaming bills, he seemed unaware of any push to cut back. "They don't take much time, so I'm happy to move them if they're justified and have broad local support. If they were taking up a huge amount of time or staff—but they're pretty easy," he said. (A spokesman for former Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa, under whom the rule and Dear Colleague letter were issued, confirmed that Issa had set stricter limits on the legislation.)
After the 2010 Republican takeover, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee instituted a rule that the naming of post offices "shall be conducted so as to minimize the time spent on such matters by the committee and the House of Representatives."
Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the committee, sounded more aware of the slowdown: "I haven't counted, but now that you mention it, I don't see that many of them any more. And I think that did come as the result of Republicans making it clear they were not necessarily welcome. In other words, they'll do them, but it's almost on the level of discouraging them." Like Chaffetz, he doesn't really see the need for a crackdown. "You know how long it takes to do a post office bill?" he asks me. "About five minutes. So, we can do more than one thing at one time."
Five minutes to pass, perhaps, but like anything on the Hill, post office bills do take work. Just to get to committee, a bill has to be backed by every member of a state's delegation. The sponsors have to submit a biography of the subject, sometimes with input from the Congressional Research Service, and ensure the post office in question can be renamed and won't be closing anytime soon. In the end, the post office gets an 11-by-14-inch plaque and an unveiling ceremony. The cost, typically between $250 and $500, is borne by the U.S. Postal Service.