News Articles

The News Journal: Sen. Tom Carper puts his stamp on postal reform

Five-day and limited delivery in compromise bill

Aug 02 2013

The financially struggling U.S. Postal Service could reduce mail delivery to five days a week or less, and change the way homeowners receive their mail under a bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Tom Carper that overhauls the agency.

The postal service, currently $15.9 billion in debt to the U.S. Treasury, announced in February it would halt Saturday mail delivery to save $2 billion a year.

It canceled the plan later after a stopgap spending bill passed by Congress prohibited it.

The long-awaited comprehensive reform bill announced Friday by Delaware’s Carper, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, would permit five or fewer delivery days per week after a year if the postal service determines it would contribute to long-term solvency.

The intention is to allow for the elimination of Saturday mail and give the postal service flexibility for extra days around long weekends and holidays, according to Carper’s staff.

The bill also would require centralized or curbside delivery of mail for new addresses, and existing addresses could lose door delivery. But it would ban for two years changes to delivery speed – such as overnight delivery of mail – and plant closings.

Carper, who introduced the bill with the committee’s top Republican, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, said it would protect millions of mailing industry jobs. He said he would work to make a strong economic case to keep the Hares Corner mail processing plant open in Delaware following the two-year ban on closings.

“Over the past year, Americans have realized the hard truth that the postal service is on the verge of financial collapse,” Carper said in a statement. “If it were to shut down, the impact on our economy would be devastating. Although the situation is dire, it isn’t hopeless. With the right tools and quick action from Congress, the postal service can reform, right-size and modernize.”

Other reforms proposed in the bill would allow the service to sell non-postal products and ship beer and wine, and would give the service more authority to set prices on its own.

The bill aims to cut the service’s overall retiree health costs by roughly half by restructuring how it pre-funds retiree health benefits and by making other changes. It also would reduce the amount the service pays into pension funds, producing savings that could be spent to retire its debt.

The committee is expected to hold a hearing on the bill after the August recess that began Friday and continues into early September.

“This proposal is a rough draft of an agreement subject to change that I hope will move us closer to a solution that will protect taxpayers and ensure the postal service can remain economically viable while providing vital services for the American people,” Coburn said.

As the committee’s new chairman, Carper set an ambitious timetable for passing legislation, saying during a February interview that he wanted to finish comprehensive reform legislation by the summer.

“If it takes us that long, we have failed miserably,” he said then.

Carper said Friday his initial inclination had been to reintroduce legislation he co-authored last year. That bill passed the Senate 62-37 but died after the House never acted on its own version.

But Coburn, the committee’s new top Republican, opposed last year’s bill, and Carper and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada agreed Coburn should be on board.

The effort proved challenging, Carper said, because Coburn’s staff had no institutional knowledge of postal reform legislation and Coburn likes to read every page of every bill he signs.

“Honest to God, I worked harder on this, trying to find a compromise on postal reform with Tom, than anything I’ve done in my 12 years in the Senate,” Carper said. “It has not been easy. It was worth the effort.”

Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, seemed more receptive to Carper’s latest proposal than he was to last year’s proposal, which he rejected as “wholly unacceptable.”

Issa, who introduced his own legislation last month, said the approaches differ in many areas, but he supports Carper’s provisions for five-day mail and the move to curbside or neighborhood box delivery.

“In the House, Democrats decried these common-sense reforms as ‘extreme’ and ‘partisan,’ ” said Issa, whose committee also oversees the postal service. “I hope that oversight committee Democrats will change course and drop their partisan opposition to these bipartisan provisions and join me in working toward a reasonable, balanced Postal Reform Act.”

Carper may have a tough time selling such provisions to Senate Democrats, many of whom fought the postal service’s proposal in February and sought changes to last year’s bill.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has introduced his own postal reform legislation with 30 co-sponsors. He said he is “strongly opposed” to the Carper-Coburn bill.

“While I have a great deal of respect for Sens. Carper and Coburn, the postal service bill that they introduced is significantly weaker than the bill that passed the Senate last year with 62 votes,” he said. “That makes no sense.”

The postal service has long sought help from Congress to reform its business model. The service is struggling largely because of a decline in first-class mail. It must close a $20 billion budget gap by 2016.

Since 2006, the service has reduced the size of its workforce by more than 200,000, consolidated more than 350 mail processing facilities and cut delivery routes. But officials say a legislative overhaul is necessary to return it to long-term financial stability.