Postal Reform Votes Likely Within Weeks

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With the end of a Senate showdown over the filibuster of federal judicial nominees, postal observers are hopeful that postal reform bills before Congress could see action as soon as this month.


Expectations are high that the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs will vote to recommend the Senate's postal reform bill this month, before the July 4 recess, said Bob McLean, executive director of the Mailers Council. Also, the House of Representatives bill, which has passed out of its committee, could get a vote from the full House this month or in July.


Democrats and Republicans had been engaged in a standoff for weeks over President Bush's nominees to the federal bench, with Republicans threatening to change Senate rules to ban the use of filibusters to delay votes on judicial nominations. A May compromise worked out by 13 moderate Republican and Democratic senators ended the deadlock, paving the way for Senate votes on the nominees and clearing the way for other Senate business.


"Things are getting back to normal," McLean said. "The leadership is trying to sort out the schedule."


The Senate committee could vote to recommend its version of the reform bill as soon as June 22, said Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of governmental affairs for the Direct Marketing Association. A spokeswoman for Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, who chairs the committee, said that date was being discussed but was by no means set in stone.


Mailers expect a near-unanimous vote in the committee in favor of the bill, said Ben Cooper, executive vice president of Printing Industries of America.


"The bill is supported by everyone," he said. "It's hard to come up with any opponents."


Strong congressional support is one reason mailers are so optimistic that reform finally will pass this year after numerous delays. Reform is particularly important this year because it could affect the upcoming 5.4 percent postal rate increase, which observers expect will be implemented in January 2006.


If a reform bill passes Congress and is signed by Bush by early November, the U.S. Postal Service could cut the rate increase in half or push it back a few months, Cerasale said. Every month the increase is delayed saves mailers $250 million nationwide.


Nevertheless, obstacles remain. Before either the Senate or House bill goes to a full floor vote, disagreements with the Bush administration need to be settled, Cerasale said. The White House remains unmoved on its stance that the USPS should pay for pension credit given to retired postal employees for military service.


Sponsors of the reform bills in Congress oppose the president on this issue, and mailers note that all other federal agencies use tax money to pay for military-service pension credits. Persuading the Bush administration to change its position will be difficult, Cerasale said.


The bills would tie rates to inflation, preventing the USPS from raising rates to cover the cost of military pension credits, Cooper said. The USPS would have to find money elsewhere, likely through cost cutting, though mailers would be unhappy with service cutbacks as a result of a rate cap.


Another disagreement lies with the escrow account that the USPS is required by Congress to create by the end of September 2006, using money it saved from its overpayments into the Civil Service Retirement System. The White House wants to use the escrow money to fund future employee benefits in advance.


Mailers want the money split between pre-funding benefits and reducing future rate increases. The USPS has said that the main reason it needs to raise rates next year is to fulfill the escrow requirement.


"We are optimistic," Cerasale said. "We still have a big job ahead of us. We must try and see what can be worked out with the administration on the money issues."


Finally, there are signs of opposition to the reform bills from organizations such as Americans for Tax Reform, which hold some influence with lawmakers and the administration, Cooper said. The bills have bipartisan support, but most of it comes from Democrats, he said. That may lead the majority Republican leadership to wonder why they should support a "Democratic" bill.


Though the Bush administration has given no sign of budging, McLean said mailers and management groups are lobbying the White House hard as well. Grassroots lobbying has been the key to bringing postal reform to the forefront of the congressional agenda, he said.


Congress has put postal reform on the back burner many times in past years. This year, mailers as well as management and employee organizations -- such as the National Association of Postmasters of the United States and the National Association of Letter Carriers -- made reform their top lobbying priority.


"You have to have awareness before you build momentum," McLean said. "You have to have momentum before you have a vote."


Scott Hovanyetz covers telemarketing, production and printing and direct response TV 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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