Waxman to Introduce Substitute To McHugh's Postal Reform Bill

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Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Chaka Fattah (D-PA) were expected last week to introduce a controversial 20-page postal reform substitute bill to H.R. 22, the Postal Modernization Act of 1999, but insiders said the bill probably won't get very far.

The bill supposedly differs from H.R. 22 in that it doesn't support a provision permitting the U.S. Postal Service to divide its products and services into noncompetitive and competitive categories overseen by the private law corporation. Instead, it calls for a separate commission, appointed by the president and similar to the Cappel Commission which looked at the postal service in an objective fashion and came out with a set of recommendations that ultimately became the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act.

This commission would be responsible for controversial decisions such as how competitive products should be treated and whether there should be a private law corporation. Unlike H.R. 22, it would take these issues out of the political process and put them into the hands of an independent commission. The bill also proposes negotiated service agreements for noncompetitive categories of mail, such as First-Class, and supports subpoena power for the Postal Rate Commission. Waxman is the ranking minority member on the Government Reform Committee, and Fattah is the ranking minority member on the postal subcommittee.

Members of the mailing community are examining a preliminary version of the bill and have taken a wait-and-see attitude.

"It sounds to me like Waxman has taken some of the more agreeable parts of H.R. 22, jettisoned the more controversial sections on things like index rates and the private law corporation and in a sense thrown up his hands and said, 'Let's send it to an independent commission to make the hard recommendations,' " said Neal Denton, executive director of the Alliance for Nonprofit Mailers, Alexandria, VA.

Staff members for John McHugh (R-NY), chairman of the subcommittee on the postal service and sponsor of H.R. 22, would not comment until the bill has been formerly introduced. Officials at the Direct Marketing Association also were waiting to comment.

The American Postal Workers Union, however, issued a letter to Waxman praising the bill.

"The draft substitute favorably addresses each of the areas for which APWU has expressed concern, while providing pricing flexibility for the postal service," wrote APWU president Moe Biller.

While the bill has some notable proposals, postal insiders said that Waxman's bill is a disingenuous attempt at reform and that he is introducing the bill for purely political purposes, particularly because of an ongoing feud with House Government Reform Committee chairman Dan Burton (R-IN), who co-sponsored McHugh's bill. In published reports, however, minority committee staffers denied the allegation.

Most postal insiders said it will be difficult for the bill -- being touted as the "Democratic H.R. 22" or "H.R. 22 Lite" -- to get through the full government reform committee mark-up process. Postal insiders said the bill won't have that great of an effect on H.R.22, which is finally moving along after four and one-half years. However, the mark-up session, when committee members offer amendments, is expected to be lengthy since it, along with another bill -- known as the United Parcel Service Amendments -- probably will be brought up.

As of press time, no hearings were scheduled, but committee staff members said they are hoping to get H.R. 22 reported out of full committee before the Fourth of July recess.

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