Senate passes postal reform bill

The Senate passed a United States Postal Service reform bill on Wednesday.

The chamber voted 62 to 37 on the bill, which aims to restructure the mail service and protect it from bankruptcy. It needed 60 votes or more to pass. Opposition was mostly, but not completely, Republican. The legislation, S. 1789, now goes to the Republican-controlled House, though the chamber is unlikely to consider the legislation in its current form.

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The postal reform bill, called "21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012," was sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) with Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Thomas Carper (D-Del.). 

Just before the bill's passage Lieberman praised his chamber on passing the legislation in a bipartisan fashion.

"Make no mistake about it, this bill will bring the change that the Post Office needs to stay alive and serving the people and business of our country," Lieberman said. "And here's the bottom line — the postal service itself says that in three years if sections of this bill are phased in they will reduce their cost of operating by $19 billion and probably the year after that they'll go into balance. That's what this bill will accomplish.

"I thank my colleagues on the committee and I want to thank and I will in a statement by name the staffs of both sides and the floor staffs on both sides for the extraordinary work over a long period that was done to get us to this point."

"Today, assuming we get those 60 votes," Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said ahead of the vote, after Lieberman spoke, "we have proven that the United States Senate can tackle an enormous problem in a bipartisan way and make real progress on an issue that matters to our economy and the American people."

Both Senate Republicans and Democrats sought to preserve the mail service and streamline it for an age where email and other forms of communication are replacing standard mail. But while the desire to pass the legislation was bipartisan, senators argued over aspects of the bill such as whether the legislation was an opportunity for the service to shed unnecessary costs and how to preserve rural post offices in small towns across the country. Republicans generally sought to cut aspects of the service they saw as antiquated and costly. Meanwhile, Democrats generally sought to restructure the service while avoiding as many cuts as possible.

Republicans also worried the bill would add to the national debt.

"What I fear that's going to happen this afternoon in an overwhelming bipartisan way Congress is going to one more time to the American people you absolutely cannot trust us with to deal with your money," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said earlier in the day.

In the lead-up to the vote there were two major moments where it appeared the legislation wouldn't make it through the Senate smoothly. One was when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) invoked a procedural move to stop Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) from attaching an amendment to the legislation that would cut off U.S. funding to Egypt. Reid claimed only amendments related to saving the mail service should be attached to the bill. A day before the bill passed, the chamber defeated an attempt by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to raise a budget point of order, a procedural move, and block consideration of the bill. Republicans had been arguing that the postal reform legislation would add $34 billion to the national debt and therefore the Senate was prohibited, under the Budget Control Act of 2011, from bringing the legislation to the Senate floor.

On Wednesday, the Senate passed 11 of the 39 amendments, including one sponsored by Carper limiting U.S. Postal Service executive compensation (S. Amdt. 2066), an amendment sponsored by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) meant to help determine what the impact of closing certain mail service facilities would be (S. Amdt. 2072), and one by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that closes a number of postal offices in the Capitol (S. Amdt. 2027). Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) also sponsored an amendment aimed at making sure the mail service's "delivery point services" don't change with reforms through the bill (S. Amdt. 2050). Amendments approved by voice vote included those from:

• Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), to require that state liaisons for states without a district office are located within their respective states (#2076);

• Paul, to require the Postal Service to take into consideration the impact of regulations when developing a profitability plan (#2029);

• Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), to express the sense of the Senate with respect to the closing and consolidation of postal facilities and post offices (#2036);

• Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), to clarify the authority of the Postal Service relating to Medicare coordination (#2073);

• Rockefeller, to improve the Postal Service Health Benefits Program (#2074);

• Schumer, to maintain all current door delivery point services (#2050);

• Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), to appropriately limit the pay of Postal Service executives (#2032); and

• Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), to require reporting regarding retirement processing and modernization (#2071).

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