Mailers Take Stand on Postal Reform

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Major mailers outlined their preferred postal reform language for provisions on which the Senate and House bills differ in a position paper issued last week by the Mailers Council.

The Mailers Council, a coalition of corporations, nonprofit groups and mailing associations, accounts for 70 percent of the nation's mail volume. Members support many provisions identical to both bills.

The Senate passed S. 662 on Feb. 9, and a similar bill passed the House of Representatives last summer. A conference committee will try to resolve the differences between the bills, though House conferees have yet to be chosen, as of press time.

President Bush has insisted that the final bill have no effect on the federal budget. But both versions would eliminate an escrow account requiring contributions from the U.S. Postal Service of $78 billion over 60 years beginning this year. The Mailers Council supports the elimination, as do postal employee organizations and the USPS.

Both bills also would return responsibility for the retirement costs of postal employees earned through military service to the Treasury Department. Shifting this responsibility to the USPS created a direct cost transfer of $27 billion from taxpayers to postage ratepayers. The council supports the bills on this point, as do postal employee groups and the USPS.

The Mailers Council also backs the identical language to let the USPS create work-sharing agreements with mailers.

And both bills let mailers lodge objections to rate increases, "an important issue for the Mailers Council, which supports an accessible process that does not interfere with routine postal operations," the paper said.

The council wants stronger language addressing creation of delivery standards and improved performance measurement systems.

But the House and Senate bills differ in several key areas, such as in defining market-dominant products. The USPS does not need to fully attribute the costs for these products, which helps keep their prices low. For competitive products, in contrast, prices must be high enough to cover the postal service's costs.

The House bill would shift single-piece parcels into the competitive products category, unlike the Senate version.

"Most mailers support the Senate language; without it, mailing individual parcels would be much more expensive," the paper said.

And though both bills cap rate increases of market-dominant products at the Consumer Price Index except in "exigency circumstances," they define such circumstances differently. Mailers prefer the stricter Senate language.

The Senate also offers a shorter transition period than the House until the law would take effect, during which time the USPS could file rate cases under the existing system while preparing to operate under the new one.


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