Postal Reform Would Get Big Boost With White House Backing

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WASHINGTON -- Postal reform could move ahead provided it receives strong backing from the White House, the chairman of the House of Representatives committee that includes oversight of the U.S. Postal Service told attendees yesterday at the Direct Marketing Association's 2003 Government Affairs Conference here.


"If the White House is not willing to go with it, I just think it's going to be very difficult [to get a bill passed] on the Hill," said Rep. Tom Davis, R-VA, chairman of the Government Reform Committee. "Without them pushing it, without our leadership response to that, you're just not going to get Congress eager to make decisions [such as closing] post offices and to start angering interest groups."


Davis reminded attendees that the president did call for the formation of the current commission on the postal service, and that he thinks the White House is serious about it.


"They didn't have to appoint a committee," he said.


Davis, a critical player regarding the recently passed Civil Service Retirement System legislation enabling the USPS to avoid rate increases for three years, said another issue regarding the retirement legislation remains on the table: military retirement benefits for postal workers.


"No other agency in government is responsible for paying the military retirement of their [employees] under CSRS except for the postal service," he said. "This is billions of dollars, and [if the agency wasn't responsible for it] it could allow the postal service to pay down its debt and do a lot of things."


Davis said that he and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, the ranking minority member of the Government Reform Committee, wanted to add an amendment to the CSRS bill, but decided not to because he did not think the bill would have passed with the amendment.


"Unfortunately, what is a gain for the post office shows up on the ledger as a loss for the budget, and the deficit is already high right now," he said. "So what we did was we decided we'd come back and visit [this issue]."


Earlier yesterday, Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, who chairs the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, discussed the importance of the CSRS legislation's passage but noted that the USPS still faces serious problems.


"The postal service is mandated by law to break even, but the fact is [it] is simply not generating significant revenue to cover its operating expenses and its capital needs, both of which continue to grow," she said.


Another problem, she said, is that the USPS "is fast approaching its $15 billion statutory borrowing plan," and that it faces "enormous unfunded liability, including the tune of nearly $6 billion for workers comp, $5 billion for retirement comp and as much as $45 billion to cover retiree healthcare costs."


The USPS has landed in such dire financial straits partly because Americans use fewer postal products than ever before thanks to electronic communication, Collins said.


Despite these issues, she said, "the need to preserve a strong and universal postal service is clear."


Collins also said it's important that members of Congress understand "the impact of postal rates on our economy," adding that "postal rates are vital to the economic health of many, many companies, especially magazines [and] catalog houses."


In other news, the President's Commission on the U.S. Postal Service confirmed the dates of its final two hearings. They are May 28 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Hart Senate Office Building, Room H-216, in Washington; and May 29 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the same location.


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