By Rachael Bade
A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday unveiled compromise legislation to relieve the financial burden on the U.S. Postal Service through retirement incentives, workers’ compensation changes, new services and, if all else fails, trimming a day of delivery.
One key provision of the bill — introduced by independent Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, Democrat Thomas R. Carper of Delaware and Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts — would allow the quasi-governmental agency to recoup about $7 billion in overpayments it made to a federal retirement account.
The Postal Service could use the refund to incentivize about 100,000 postal employees to retire in return for up to a $25,000 cash buyout. The workforce reduction would allow the mail carrier to save about $8 billion annually, according to a bill summary.
Lieberman, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the Postal Service needs a “fundamental restructuring of the way it meets its obligations.”
“If our rescue legislation is adopted, we are confident that the U.S. Postal Service, a great iconic American institution founded in the 18th century along with the country itself, will survive and flourish through the 21st century and beyond,” he said.
The senators, all members of the panel Lieberman heads, plan to mark up the bill Nov. 9.
The legislation includes a mix of provisions from competing bills (S 353 and S 1010) introduced by Collins, who is the committee’s top Republican, and Carper, chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the Postal Service. They are perhaps the two senators most involved in the issue.
The bill includes Collins’ proposal to overhaul federal workers’ compensation not only in the Postal Service but across the government. The bill would reduce the funds awarded to employees of retirement age who are still on workers’ compensation, to aligned the payments with retirement benefits.
The measure includes part of Carper’s bill as well. It would allow the Postal Service to develop new products and services, such as shipping beer and wine or offering fishing licenses at post offices.
The bill would prohibit the Postal Service from moving to a five-day delivery system, except as a last resort. The service would not be allowed to make the change for two years, and would have to implement other financial cutbacks first, as well as demonstrate that the move is necessary to avoid bankruptcy.
The bill would also reduce the Postal Service’s annual payments to pre-fund all employees’ future retirement health care benefits, by expanding the payments over a longer period of time. The pre-funding is mandated by law (PL 109-435).