The US Senate has voted against setting up a receivership-style commission to force changes and cutbacks at the US Postal Service.
The vote came as the upper chamber of the US Congress voted on dozens of amendments offered up for a major postal reform bill to rescue the ailing USPS, the 21st Century Postal Service Act (S.1789).
Senators are expected to resume voting on the amendments this afternoon prior to a vote on the amended bill passing, something that requires 60 of 100 to be in favour.
During the first day of voting on amendments, the Senate added extra hoops for USPS to jump through before it can close post offices and mail processing facilities, with increased regulatory roles for the Postal Regulatory Commission and the Inspector General.
New postal retail standards, a ban on closing rural post offices for a year, encouragement for the co-location of post offices with other local retail outlets, and the ability for communities to fight their case via a voluntary advocate were also approved by the Senate.
Still to come in today’s voting are amendments that include proposals to maintain current delivery standards – saving First Class Mail’s overnight requirement – for four years, which could considerably affect USPS plans to close more than 220 of its mail processing plants.
Among the key amendments that were defeated was the proposal from Arizona’s John McCain, the former Republican candidate for President, who was proposing a Postal Reorganisation Commission to take charge of slimming down the Postal Service.
The McCain amendment would have replaced the Senate Bill with the equivalent to the Republican-led proposal currently proceeding through the House of Representatives, with the Senate’s vote yesterday giving a clear idea of how Senators view the rival reform bill currently awaiting a floor debate in the lower chamber of Congress.
For either bill to succeed and become law, both chambers of Congress must approve.
McCain said yesterday that a Commission was needed to consolidate the Postal Service because Congress was politically unable to support efforts to reduce the excess capacity from the USPS network now that mail volumes have declined, because of local pressure to save jobs and local post offices.
The Republican Senator from Arizona said S.1789 did not do enough to reduce the size of the USPS network, and denounced the bill’s “pointless” additional requirements for up to two years of further review of USPS network changes.
“It is not a bill to save the Postal Service, it is a bill to postpone saving the Postal Service,” he said, quoting a Washington Post editorial.
“The Collins-Lieberman bill transfers $7bn from the federal retirement system to the USPS to be used in offers of buyouts for its workers, but can stave off collapse for a short time at best. Nor do the other measures in the bill offer much hope,” added McCain.
Senator Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Senate government affairs committee and proposer of S.1789, suggested the McCain amendment would kill off the Postal Service, and dismissed his claims that S.1789 did not do enough to save USPS.
“It makes significant changes,” Lieberman said of his bill. “There are going to be about 100,000 fewer people working for the Postal Service as a result of this bill being passed. There will be mail processing facilities that will be closed, there will be post offices that close.
“There’ll be new sources of revenue for the Postal Service. Bottom line is that USPS itself estimates that the legislation if enacted as it is now will, as it is phased in over the next three years, save the Postal Service $19bn a year – this isn’t a Band-Aid, this is a real reform.”
Lieberman stressed that his bill had bipartisan support, and suggested the measures proposed by McCain – and the Republican-led House – would be vetoed by President Obama even if they get through Congress.
Mailbox monopoly, Saturday deliveries
Other key amendments defeated yesterday in the Senate included an attempt to challenge the Postal Service’s monopoly on accessing household mailboxes – currently rivals like FedEx and UPS are not allowed to deliver letters and packets into domestic mailboxes, and the Senate voted to keep that USPS stranglehold on the last mile.
Senators also voted to keep a two-year moratorium on the Postal Service moving to a five-day delivery week and against an amendment to require six-day delivery.
Changes to worker compensation benefits and worker consultation requirements were also defeated, as was a proposal for mandatory retirement for eligible workers after a two-year moratorium.
The votes on amendments may matter little if the final vote on passing the entire bill fails, however there is some confidence in Washington that the bill could pass, particularly after yesterday’s vote against an attempt to block the bill on the grounds of its impact on the federal deficit.
The National Association of Letter Carriers said last night it was unhappy with the Senate’s vote against protecting Saturday deliveries, and voting to reduce federal workers’ compensation benefits.
A statement from Frederic Rolando, the president of the union representing more htan 200,000 postal workers, said the union would be pushing for a defeat of the entire bill in the final vote.
“We must send a message to our representatives in the Senate that we cannot save the Postal Service by dismantling its greatest asset – the last-mile delivery network that our members make real every day,” he said, “and no reform can justify the punitive workers’ compensation reforms shoe-horned into this bill.”
The American Postal Workers Union said it was pleased that the amendment from Montana Senator Jon Tester was passed yesterday, modifying the process of closing or consolidating post offices and postal facilities.
Last night it was urging its members to push their local Senators to back the amendment from Pennsylvania’s Senator Bob Casey protecting mail delivery standards.
“USPS officials have demonstrated that they will attempt to slash service – unless Congress stops them,” said APWU president Cliff Guffey.
Source: James Cartledge, Post&Parcel