Large group of Senate Democrats seeks to stop Postal Service cutbacks

A large group of Senate Democrats is fighting to stop plans by the U.S. Postal Service to shrink its services to address its multibillion-dollar operating deficit.

The postal service announced this week it planned to close 252 mail-processing centers and cut tens of thousands of jobs. 

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Democrats say Congress should have a say in a government action that could ultimately lead to more than 100,000 lost jobs at a time when the unemployment rate is 8.6 percent.

A group of 18 Senate Democrats have signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) asking for Congress to postpone the Postal Service’s action. 

“While we may have very different views on how to financially improve the postal service, we all believe that democratically elected members of the Senate and the House have the responsibility to make significant changes to the postal service,” the lawmakers wrote.

They are requesting that congressional leaders add language to appropriations legislation that would prevent the Postal Service from consolidating area mail processing centers and rural post offices for the next six months.

They expressed concern the Postal Service could pre-empt Congress by closing nearly 3,700 post offices, many in rural areas, and eliminating overnight delivery for first-class mail before Congress has a chance to act on postal reform.

“While some of these changes may be needed, we believe that it is very important to give Congress the opportunity to reform the postal service in a way that protects universal service while ensuring its financial viability for decades to come,” the lawmakers wrote.

The postal service lost $5.1 billion during the last fiscal year, which came to a close at the end of September.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Sen. Thad Cochran (Miss.), the ranking Republican on the panel, also received the letter.

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), an Independent who caucuses with Democrats, and Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Mark Udall (Colo.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Max Baucus (Mont.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Al Franken (Minn.) signed it. 

The lawmakers noted that several postal reform bills have been introduced in the Senate and House. The 21st Century Postal Service Act passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee by a vote of 9-1 last month.

Postal service leaders plan to cut operating costs by $20 billion by 2015 and reduce its workforce by more than 100,000, nearly one in six workers.

Sanders said the loss of 100,000 jobs could have a ripple effect throughout the weak economy.

“If the post office starts making these drastic cuts, which will lay off workers, slow down mail delivery, cut back on rural postal services and Saturday deliveries, they’re going to give us a fait accompli,” said Sanders. “They will have made major, irreparable decisions before Congress has time to act.”