Congress to Discuss Postal Bills

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The Senate and House have until Oct. 1 to hammer out their differences in the Treasury, Postal Appropriations bill. The Senate passed its version Sept. 3, while the House version was passed July 17.

Both versions set forth authorized uses of -- and limitations on -- appropriations for payment to the U.S. Postal Service and make appropriations for the Treasury Department, the Executive Office of the President and certain independent agencies for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 1999. The bills also contain several postal-related amendments.

The amendment in the Senate bill that most affects direct marketers is a revised International Postal Services Act, which was originally introduced on May 14 by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS). It requires the Postal Rate Commission to submit to Congress -- before July 1 of each year -- a comprehensive report on the costs, revenues and volumes accrued by the USPS in connection with international mail. It also requires that before March 15 of each year the postal service provide the PRC with cost, revenue and volume data for each international mail product or service so the PRC can analyze it in a similar fashion to the way it analyzes rates for domestic mail. However, the amendment doesn't allow the PRC to actually set international rates.

The amendment originally would have subjected international mail to the same rate-making procedures as domestic mail, and would have put international postal rates in the same context as a regular rate increase. This, many said, would make it virtually impossible to set postal rates on a competitive basis and, therefore, tip the balance in favor of USPS' competitors.

Anne Rhefuss, a spokeswoman for Cochran, said the new version was agreed upon by "everyone -- the postal service and its competitors."

A postal official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, "We support the International Postal Services Act, especially since it verifies everything we have already been doing at the postal service, and especially since it does not give the PRC any international rate-making authority."

Direct marketing officials favor the Senate's version.

"We support the bill -- especially the current version of the Cochran amendment -- since it allows the PRC to review, only after rates have been put into effect, if the USPS is using funds to cross-subsidize its international funds," said Richard Barton, senior vice president of congressional affairs at the Direct Marketing Association. "[But] if the PRC does come out with a statement that says that the USPS is cross-subsidizing, the amendment doesn't even call for a provision to deter [the practice]."

The bill also appropriated $71.5 million to the USPS.

The Senate bill doesn't include several amendments that are in the House version. The amendments, which are essentially statements, include:

* The Northup amendment, which prohibits any money to be used for USPS participation in the Universal Postal Union.

* The Wicker amendment, which prohibits any money to be expended by the postal service to initiate new nonpostal commercial activities or pack and send services.

While the DMA and the USPS think the Cochran amendment will most likely be included in the final bill, no one is sure what may happen to the other amendments.

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