Hearing Delay Sparks Fears Postal Reform May Be Delayed

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The postponement of yesterday's scheduled Senate hearing on postal reform has prompted worries that initial optimism about congressional passage of a reform bill by year's end may have to be dampened.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearing was postponed indefinitely because of illness on the part of one of the witnesses, a committee spokeswoman said. The two witnesses scheduled to appear were James A. Johnson and Harry Pearce, co-chairs of the presidential postal reform commission, the recommendations of which the committee had planned to discuss.

The spokeswoman said the committee hoped to have a new date for the hearing within a few days. But Neal Denton, executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, said he was worried that with other pressing issues before Congress, postal reform may get pushed off the legislative agenda.

"Those interested in postal reform are fighting the clock for this session," he said.

However, Jack Estes, executive director for the Main Street Coalition for Postal Fairness, said he expected the hearing to be held in about 10 days. But he agreed that numerous issues before Congress likely will push the possibility of a reform bill into next year.

"I would be surprised if they got to any definitive action this year," Estes said.

Issues facing Congress include prescription drug benefits, the ongoing U.S. military presence in Iraq and concern about the state of the U.S. electrical supply system after last month's power outage that hit the Northeast and Midwest. Not least of Congress' concerns is that none of the appropriations bills has been passed, which would be needed to keep the government running, Denton said.

With an election year coming, lawmakers are much more likely to focus on issues that capture the public's attention, rather than postal reform, Denton said.

"It was wise to schedule something very early," he said. "Now that it has been pushed back, it makes it very challenging."

Yet Estes said he thinks Congress won't have trouble passing a reform bill next year. Congress has never ceased doing business in the middle of an election year, he noted.

One beacon of hope is the House Government Reform Committee's special panel on postal reform, which is expected to meet and discuss the presidential commission's recommendations in about three weeks. The panel includes Reps. John McHugh, R-NY, and Danny Davis, D-IL, both of whom have been active in postal reform legislation.

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