A bi-partisan bill was introduced in the Senate today to save the U.S. Postal Service from going under. It is an alternative to Congressman Issa’s bill moving through the House which would close thousands of post offices, cut mail service, lay off 120,000 workers, and set up a commission that could sell off parts of the Post Office to private firms.
The Senate bill was sponsored by Senators Thomas Carper (D-DE) and Susan Collins (R-ME). These Senators have been actively involved in the Postal Service in Congress in recent years. Today’s bill is a re-write of a bill previously introduced by the pair, and includes provisions that should enhance its likelihood of passage.
The Postal Service is in the midst of a financial crisis caused in large part to a 2006 bill passed by Congress under George Bush requiring the postal service to fully fund 75 years of retirement obligations over 10 years. The USPS does not have the $5.5 billion to make this years payment. No other government agency has such an unreasonable and onerous requirement.
Bill would require government to refund USPS money it owes
The Carper/Collins bill would scrap the 10 year retirement pre-payment program and spread the payments over a normal and manageable 40 years. It would also require the federal government to repay about $7 billion dollars it over charged the postal service in retirement funds. These funds could be used by the USPS to get out of its current crisis and offer early retirement to thousands of workers thereby reducing labor costs.
Republicans are against any repayment of the money the government over charged the postal service calling it a bailout. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CN), a supporter of the bill said Refunding the money “is not a bailout. It’s the result of a legal analysis that everybody agrees with, that this was in fact an overpayment by the Postal Service” into the Federal Employee Retirement System.
One reason Congress and the Bush Administration wanted the postal service to prefund their retirement is that the USPS money would mask the deficits in the government’s own retirement program. Clearly, Issa and other Republicans are against the repayment because if the government pays its debt, Congress will have to find the money somewhere because it was spent.
Senate bill eliminates other onerous provisions of Issa bill
The Issa bill required the postal service to close post offices and mail processing centers costing up to 120,000 workers their jobs and denying mostly rural community’s service. It would also require the post office to end Saturday mail delivery.
If the Carper/Collins bill passes, plans to end Saturday mail deliveries would be on hold for at least two more years until USPS and postal regulators study the potential affects on customers and industries that rely on six-day mail deliveries. It would also delay post office closings until after studies are completed. The USPS says the closings would save them billions of dollars in costs.
The Postal Service also would have to scrap delivering mail to door side mailboxes in favor of sidewalk, curbside or centralized neighborhood boxes.
Privatization of Post Office not part of Senate bill
The biggest difference between the Senate bill and the House bill is that the Senate scraps the provision for the new commission that would control the USPS’s finances and would have authority to sell off the post office in pieces to private firms, and simply eliminate services no one wants to buy.
The Hill reports that Senator Collins said the bi-partisan is a more thoughtful, studied approach than the bill introduced last month by House Republicans [Issa bill]. “We are not crying wolf here,” she said. “The Postal Service literally will not survive unless comprehensive legislative and administrative reforms are undertaken.”
The postal service unions have not commented on the new bill. They were opposed to the Issa bill because of the lay offs it would cause.
The bill may have tough sledding in the House controlled by Republicans.
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