Postal Reform Hits a Snag

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Carper's still looking for a bill that will pass.
Carper's still looking for a bill that will pass.

No discussion of the Postal Reform Act (PRA) took place at today's meeting of the Senate's Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee, complicating Chairman Tom Carper's original mission to pass legislation this year. Carper (D-DE) said the bill would be discussed at the committee's November 20 meeting instead, giving Ranking Member Tom Coburn's (R-OK) absence as part of the reason. Coburn was seeking treatment after having been diagnosed with a recurrence of prostate cancer.

But reasons for the delay run much deeper. The three major stakeholders in U.S. Postal Service policy—Postal Service management, unions, and mailers—remain at odds over details of the proposed Senate legislation. USPS managers strongly back the PRA since it will strip away the CPI rate cap and give them rate-setting powers. Mailers adamantly want the rate cap kept in any legislation, and have reservations about centralized delivery that will keep direct mail from hitting individual mailboxes. Postal unions remain opposed to five-day delivery and any other provisions that will cost jobs.

“Coburn thinks the Postal Service should be given unfettered pricing power and doesn't seem to recognize the fact that it's a monopoly that the mailing industry has already paid mightily to keep in business,” says Hamilton Davison, president and executive director of the American Catalog Mailers Association (ACMA). “We're paying 90% to 95% of the bills for this service. We're paying for all the mistakes made. Aside from what they pay for postage, there are no taxpayer dollars in it.”

The ACMA today emailed its membership, urging them to support Sen. Tammy Baldwin's (D-WI) effort to strike Section 301 from the Carper-Coburn bill, which would abolish regulatory oversight of the Postal Service and give it carte blanche to set rates. The letter especially asked for letters to be sent to Senators by members whose businesses are located in the states represented on the Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Mailers are generally in favor the House bill introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), which would retain the rate cap, set up a temporary postal management oversight board, and require mailers of underwater products to sustain measured rate increases up to a maximum of 90% of actual costs. That billed has been marked up and approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and is ready to be introduced for a vote.

As for the Senate, when a finished bill will be ready is anyone's guess.  “They need to circulate the legislative language of the bill before they discuss it. None of that work is done,” Davison says. “There's still a lot of concern about whether all the stakeholders can be on the same page.”

The general feeling among both mailers and union officials is that passage of both bills will be eased if the issues of retiree healthcare prefunding and ongoing healthcare benefits are resolved.

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