Dispute Sends Postal Reform to Back Burner

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Postal reform took another step backward last week after Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist failed to broker a deal between Sens. Susan Collins and Christopher "Kit" Bond over the stalled legislation.

Mailers are waiting to see whether a bipartisan bill (S. 662) sponsored by Collins, R-ME, and Sen. Tom Carper, D-DE, will be taken up by the full Senate. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which Collins chairs, approved the bill in June, but Bond placed a hold on the bill because he wants to insert language allowing mailers to challenge prices for First-Class mail if they think the rates are not "fair and equitable."

Bond, R-MO, has said that his provision -- backed by Kansas City, MO-based Hallmark and other companies that rely on First-Class mail -- would protect consumers from being hit with higher postage rates to subsidize discounts for large bulk mailers. Collins, however, has said Bond's language would reduce the U.S. Postal Service's flexibility to set its own rates. Large catalog mailers such as L.L. Bean, Freeport, ME, agree with Collins, as does the USPS.

Frist's deal would have allowed the bill's approval by unanimous consent, as Collins had advocated. In exchange, Bond would be able to offer an amendment on the floor requiring the USPS to ensure that rates set for individual products -- including First-Class mail -- are "fair and equitable." A similar amendment is in the House version of the bill, H.R. 22, which passed 410-20 on July 26.

Bond, who previously said he wanted to give the full Senate a chance to consider his language, declined the offer, an aide said.

An aide for Collins said the senator was willing to accept Frist's offer. "If S. 662 [the Collins-Carper] postal reform bill is killed in the U.S. Senate, postal consumers both large and small will be forced to pay billions of dollars more in future rate increases ...," Collins said in a statement.

Though some have tried to portray the current dispute as a fight between Hallmark and L.L. Bean, she said, "the issue is really much bigger than that. The current rate-setting system, which Hallmark supports, involves a long, litigious and expensive rate-setting process and does not address the critical need of the postal service for flexibility and increased productivity."

Sen. George Voinovich, R-OH, also is said to have issues with the reform bill.

Melissa Campanelli covers postal news, CRM and database marketing for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters

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