Political maneuvering in Washington ahead of this year’s US elections appears to have put paid to much-needed postal reform legislation passing Congress until at least November.
After the Senate passed its version of a rescue package for the US Postal Service at the end of April, Republicans controlling the House of Representatives had scheduled a debate for their postal reform bill for July.
But it now appears that the Republican leadership is instead turning its attention to measures offering more of an “election message” with their priority on retaking the White House this November.
It is believed that postal reform could now have to wait until the “lame duck session” of Congress this November/December, the period after the elections but before the next official term of Congress begins.
Reforms are needed to help the US Postal Service face up to its monumental annual losses, forecast to reach as much as $14bn this year, after mail volumes have dropped 25% since 2006, and pension and healthcare payment arrangements set by Congress at a time when USPS was making record profits are now cannibalising the viability of the business.
Though seen by many as imperfect, the Senate Bill passed in April offered an $11bn rebate from the USPS pension surplus to pay for workforce reductions, and allowed a restructuring of USPS pension and healthcare payment obligations. However, the Democrat-led Senate also added restrictions on the Postal Service right-sizing its networks, and banned USPS from abandoning Saturday deliveries for two years.
The House proposals have sought less of a rebate approach for improving the Postal Service finances, and more of an austerity package with the establishment of a Commission to oversee major cutbacks – including a railroading of union lay-off protections.
The bill H.R. 2309 led by Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa and postal subcommittee chairman Dennis Ross, who have been pushing for a debate this summer, also offers USPS an immediate elimination of Saturday deliveries, a measure the Postal Service believes would save $3.1bn a year in operating costs.
Last night Senator Tom Carper, who has been leading postal reform in the Senate, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the reports of the House delaying postal reform.
He pointed out that the Postal Service faces another $5.5bn government invoice in August for its Congressionally-mandated payment into the fund for future retiree healthcare liabilities, and will not be able to pay the bill.
“In the light of challenges that face the Postal Service and the economy as a whole, the House’s continued unwillingness to act on this issue is completely irresponsible,” said Carper, who said USPS had lost $2bn since the Senate had passed its bill.
“The House has managed to find time to vote on any number of issues – many of them highly political in nature, will never become law, and certainly don’t have the ability to preserve jobs and economic activity as postal reform would.”
The Democrat from the State of Delaware said: “The longer the House delays action, the more consumers and businesses become uncertain about the future of the Postal Service, undermining confidence in the Postal Service’s future and harming its ability to build new business.”
The US Postal Service is in the process of closing 48 of its 461 mail processing plants this summer, with plans to close a further 92 in early 2013, although despite going ahead, the plans are subject to regulatory challenges from postal unions.
US mailers said today that the delay in Congressional debate on postal reform could prove “disastrous”.
Lobby group Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, which represents 41 mailing industry trade associations and businesses, said if the House was unable to pass a postal reform bill this month, it “seems unlikely that any comprehensive postal reform effort could be enacted this year”.
“The longer the House delays reforming the Postal Service, the more likely it is that nothing happens. That’s not just bad news for the Postal Service, it’s potentially disastrous for the eight million private sector workers whose jobs depend on the mail,” said Art Sackler, co-coordinator of the Coalition.
“This issue is critically important to the economy, and the House needs to have its voice heard,” he added.
Source: James Cartledge, Post&Parcel