Mar 22 2012
By Bernie Becker
Next up: postal reform.
Having dispatched with a small-business measure and congressional insider-trading bill, the Senate is poised to take up a bipartisan measure that would overhaul the cash-strapped Postal Service’s operations next week.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has called the postal legislation a priority in recent weeks, said Thursday there could be a procedural vote as early as Monday on the bill from Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.).
“This bill — the only bipartisan proposal from Members in either Chamber — presents a comprehensive solution to the Postal Service’s financial challenges,” the Delaware Democrat said in a statement. “While the situation facing the Postal Service is dire, it is not hopeless. That is why we need to pass this bipartisan and comprehensive bill as soon as possible.”
The bill from the four senators, all members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, cleared the panel in November.
The lawmakers had hoped their bill would have progressed more quickly this year, but the measure has found resistance from, among other places, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other members of the Democratic Caucus.
Sanders said Thursday that he had held productive discussions with Lieberman and Carper about making changes to the bill, but that the time had come to bring those discussions to the floor.
Reid said as much last week, telling reporters that he thought the only way to finish off the postal reform bill was on the floor.
“I hope we can agree on a manager’s amendment that will go a long way toward saving jobs at the Postal Service, saving rural post offices and maintaining strong mail-delivery standards,” Sanders said in a statement.
The Postal Service and lawmakers in both chambers all acknowledge that Congress needs to pass postal legislation, with mail volume continuing to drop as consumers have more and more opportunities to communicate electronically.
But USPS and members of both the House and the Senate have different visions over how to get the agency back on firmer financial ground.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has said that Congress needs to allow the Postal Service to act more like a business and cut costs more aggressively — something, he says, neither the bipartisan Senate bill nor a House Republican bill from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and others would do.
“You know that phrase 'speed kills?' ” Donahoe said in November. “Well, lack of speed will kill the Postal Service.”
The agency is moving forward with a plan to potentially close more than 200 mail processing centers, which would slow down the delivery of first-class mail in many cases, as soon as May 15. Donahoe has said USPS needs to spend $20 billion less a year by 2015.
The bipartisan Senate bill would allow USPS to potentially scrap Saturday delivery after two years, and would also allow the agency to spread out prepayments for retiree healthcare that were earlier required by Congress.
But Sanders wants the Postal Service to keep six-day delivery for at least four years, to get rid of the healthcare prepayment and create a blue-ribbon panel to help the agency find more revenue.
For her part, Collins recently cited data that showed that service cuts planned by the agency would cost billions in lost revenue.
“Slower delivery and less service will force many customers to pursue delivery alternatives, dealing yet another blow to postal revenues," the Maine Republican said.
In the House, the bill pushed by Issa and Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), would empower a task force to construct a cost-cutting plan and would ban future no-layoff clauses in collective bargaining agreements with USPS.
The House GOP bill is scheduled to get a Rules Committee hearing on Monday, but is still waiting to hit the floor.