By Rachael Bade
With the U.S. Postal Service heading toward bankruptcy, lawmakers on the Senate panel that oversees the quasi-governmental agency said they will not mark up overhaul legislation for a few more weeks.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., announced Wednesday his intention to bring a Postal Service overhaul bill to the panel in the first few weeks of November.
Postal Service leaders have urged Congress since summer to take immediate action. The agency lost an estimated $10 billion in fiscal 2011, due in part to a decrease in first-class mail volume. Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe predicted that without major changes, the agency could run out of money by next August or September.
After months of debate, lawmakers have introduced at least a half-dozen overhaul proposals. Members hoped to agree on a plan by late September, when the Postal Service — for the first time ever — was unable to meet a payment ($5.5 billion) due to an account set aside for future retirees’ health care benefits. Finding themselves out of time, lawmakers awarded the agency an extension on the payment-due date, simultaneously giving themselves more time to find a bipartisan solution.
Two members of Lieberman’s panel — Ranking Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Thomas R. Carper of Delaware — have introduced competing legislation (S 353, S 1010) proposing tweaks to the Postal Service. Republican John McCain of Arizona has also introduced an overhaul bill (S 1625), the companion measure to a House GOP proposal (HR 2309) that will likely move to the House floor in the coming weeks.
But according to committee staff, the Senate panel will consider a new bill that has yet to be introduced. Collins and Carper, sources said, are ditching their proposals and working together with Lieberman and panel member Scott P. Brown, R-Mass., to write a new bill that incorporates elements of both measures.
The new bill, sources say, will likely be introduced by the end of the week, before the Senate breaks for a short recess.
Staff members were unsure which provisions would be kept and which would be scrapped.
The Collins and Carper bills differ drastically on a number of provisions. Carper’s bill would eliminate Saturday mail delivery and a pre-funding mandate (PL 109-435) that requires the Postal Service to make payments in advance on all its employees’ retirement health care benefits. Collins rejects both ideas.
Switch in Retirement Benefits
Collins’ bill would require postal workers receiving workers’ compensation benefits to switch to regular retirement benefits, which traditionally provide less money, once they reached retirement age. She hopes to overhaul workers’ compensation in all federal agencies in a similar manner; Carper has not expressed support for the measure.
Both lawmakers, however, have in the past backed the idea of allowing the Postal Service to take back any overpayments it may have made to employee retirement accounts. For months, the Postal Service and its oversight agencies have contended that the mail carrier has paid too much into the Civil Service Retirement System and its successor, the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS), since the early 1970s. Now, the Postal Service wants the money back, saying it will use the funds to streamline operations and put itself on a path toward fiscal solvency.
But after a Government Accountability Office report found that the bulk of the so-called “overpayments” did not exist, Carper said that lawmakers would have to focus elsewhere. He suggested starting the compromise with a provision to refund to the Postal Service a $6.9 billion overpayment to FERS. GAO has confirmed that number.
The Collins-Carper compromise will likely look nothing like the GOP Postal Service overhaul backed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week. Indeed, McCain is not part of the negotiations to write a new bill.
The House GOP bill, sponsored by committee Chairman Darrell Issa of California, would establish a board to find billions of dollars in savings through closures, service cuts and workforce downsizing. In another contentious provision, the GOP bill would create an oversight authority that would seize power over the agency if it maintains more than a $2 billion budget deficit for more than two years.