Postal Service Reform Still Elusive
July 21, 2013 - 8:40 am
Representative Darrell Issa is making another stab at coming up with a postal service reform bill that the Democrats will buy. Mark-up of the bill, sponsored by Issa, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) and Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) will take place on Wednesday.
Two keys to reform are the closing of thousands of rural post offices, many of them in Republican districts, and labor contracts that Democrats want to remain whole.
Lawmakers representing rural districts – many of them Republicans – can have a particular interest in shoring up the Postal Service, so Lankford said he thought the House would be able to find time for the issue even as they grapple with big issues like immigration.
“Everybody hears about it at home,” Lankford said. “Everyone is engaged because everyone has a connection to the post office.”
“There’s a lot of energy nationwide to try to get this fixed,” the Oklahoma Republican added.
Issa’s latest effort incorporates suggestions from Cummings; Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), a senior Oversight member; and Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.), who has pushed to limit the closure of rural post offices.
The measure would give the Postal Service a break from the requirement to prefund billions of dollars a year for future retiree healthcare – defaults on which caused most of the agency’s losses last year.
Issa is also rolling back previous proposals that would force the closure of unneeded post offices, potentially place the agency into receivership and undo already signed labor agreements.
On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, applauded Issa for moving forward with a bill, even as he noted that he would take a different approach in some areas.
“The hard truth is that our nation is likely closer than we have ever been to losing the Postal Service and the industries and millions of jobs that it supports,” Carper said. “That’s why it is imperative that Congress and the president come together around a set of meaningful reforms to right-size, modernize, and reform the Postal Service.”
Carper said he was hoping to roll out a bipartisan bill as soon as possible, with sources off Capitol Hill saying the Delaware Democrat is aiming for before lawmakers head home for the August recess.
Carper, Issa, Cummings and other postal negotiators also came close to hashing out a deal before the end of last year, and Democrats and Republicans from both parties have continued to stay in touch this year, as the two chambers hope to eventually get to a conference committee.
Democrats and the unions have an interest in trying to save Saturday mail delivery, which USPS proposed eliminating two years ago. And while the GOP wants to save many of the one-man rural post offices slated for closure, savings have to come from somewhere and it just isn’t economically feasible to keep most of those offices open.
A big sticking point is the “prefunding” mandate for the health and pension plans carried by the post office. Republicans placed the prefunding requirement on the post office because there was concern that cost cutting would short change the plans. Now the GOP has changed its tune because prefunding out to 20 years is showing up as red ink every quarter. Democrats want the prefunding requirement eased or eliminated and Republicans seem willing to talk about it.
Both sides are going to have to work quickly to try and get something passed before the end of this session.