Cluster Box Bill Stirs Hope for Postal Reform

Thursday at 9 a.m. a House subcommittee will meet to discuss “Innovative Postal Products for the 21st Century.” But, in so doing, it may sow the seeds of bipartisan postal reform in Congress.

That possibility presented itself today at a markup of the Secure Delivery for America Act (H.R. 4670), a bill introduced by House Oversight & Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) that would require the Postal Service to convert 1.5 million addresses a year to cluster box delivery. While saving the USPS money, the bill would ensure secure package delivery for both citizens and Internet retailers, Issa maintained. But it soon became clear that the hastily introduced bill was being used to jumpstart the possibility of a bipartisan re-crafting of Issa’s Postal Reform Act of 2013, which received no support from Democratic committee members.

While taking issue with Issa’s plan to have 15 million addresses converted to cluster box delivery by 2014 and that would offer a paid option for retaining door delivery, Democrats also introduced amendments to the bill seeking to retain six-day delivery, return a Federal Employees Retirement System overpayment to the USPS, and eliminate prefunding of retiree health benefits.

Issa shot down each amendment on the grounds that none were germane to the singular focus of the bill to centralize delivery points. But Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO), a member of the subcommittee on Federal Workforce, USPS, and the Census, had a proposal: “Would the Chairman entertain a suggestion that the subcommittee go back to work on the proposals of each side and put in an honest effort to work something out?”

Issa, who had earlier attempted a compromise based on a proposal from the Obama administration, eagerly affirmed he would. “What I suggest is that we complete today’s work and then use the president’s budget as a tool to start up a discussion [on a bipartisan reform bill.],” Issa responded. “That’s the best place to start, because we know the administration supports it and that could lead to Senate support.”

So tomorrow’s scheduled subcommittee hearing to examine private sector ideas to invigorate the Postal Service now potentially turns into an incubator to re-invigorate postal reform and, dare it be said, bipartisan lawmaking. Members of the committee—including Ranking Member Elijah Cummings [D-MD], whose microphone was turned off by Issa during a hearing last month—were uncharacteristically cordial to each other at today’s hearing.

“What really is at stake here is the future viability of the U.S. Postal Service and both sides are going to have to give in some to preserve the one service that all Americans appreciate,” Clay added. “We have to grow up and see that both sides have to give, or you’ll begin to see the collapse of the USPS and it will be on all of us.”

“Nobody,” Issa concluded, “could have said it better.”

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