US Senate considering commission to review USPS business model
The upper chamber of the US Congress narrowly voted on Tuesday not to debate postal reform legislation this week, but the bill S.1789 should come back for consideration mid-April.
Urging Senators in vain to act to save a “fundamental part of the modern economy” on Tuesday, one of the driving forces behind the postal bill, Joseph Lieberman, said new measures were being added after negotiation with the influential Senator Bernie Sanders, among others.
Sanders, the Senator for Vermont, has become one of the loudest voices in Washington opposing the closure of USPS mail processing plants and post offices as the struggling Postal Service looks to save money.
Among his recent proposals have included the setting up a Blue-Ribbon Entrepreneurial Commission, comprising appointed entrepreneurs and postal stakeholders, to develop a new business model for USPS.
Lieberman, the chairman of the Senate’s Government Affairs Committee, said on Tuesday that this concept was being added to the bill following talks with Sanders.
He said: “We will create an advisory commission, a new commission which will be charged with the responsibility of not only reviewing the operations of the Post Office to make sure it’s being managed and run most efficiently, but for looking for a new business model and for new ways to use the great assets of the post office.”
A rival bill in the House of Representatives, also waiting for a floor debate after passing out of committee, would also seek to set up a new body to help steer the Postal Service.
However, in the case of the Issa-Ross bill in the House, this would be a control agency that would look to force radical cost-cutting under a form of receivership.
Lieberman said when his bill is ultimately debated by the full Senate, it would provide “protections” from small and rural post offices being closed, and add mail delivery standards so that the number of USPS mail plants being closed would be “nowhere near” the more than 220 plants that Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe wanted to close.
The bill’s two-year moratorium on eliminating Saturday deliveries for most mail would also remain in the legislation.
“We essentially said you may have to do that, Mr Postmaster General, but don’t do it for two years, see if the other things we are authorising you to do enable you to get the Post Office back in fiscal balance, if not after two years they’ll have to go to five days,” said Lieberman in the Senate.
To get the Senate Bill passed, Lieberman will have to placate the array of Senators who are opposing the closure of mail facilities in their home states, and who believe doing nothing to save the ailing Postal Service is the best way to register their protests.
Senators looking to delay any postal legislation are being backed by postal unions, who claimed victory this week for pressuring lawmakers into pushing the debate back until after Easter.
The National Association of Letter Carriers describes the bill as a “deeply flawed” piece of legislation, believing that reforming USPS pension and healthcare payment arrangements would be enough to restore fiscal sustainability.
Frederic Rolando, the NALC president, said his members had “flooded” Senate offices with demands to oppose the Senate bill. “But we must be prepared to renew the fight at any time,” he said.
“We hope senators will now use this extra time to carefully analyse the Service’s financial problems, so that when the Senate resumes consideration of the bill, it will be prepared to work on real reform designed to strengthen the agency, not dismantle it.”
US Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said on Tuesday in a hearing in front of a House of Representatives committee that there could be a compromise plan in which half the number of mail plants from the current plan would close, if the Postal Service was allowed to significantly raise postal rates to cover the reduced operational savings.