Postal Service observers hoping for compromise deal to reform agency

House Republicans pushing to overhaul the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service believe adding a prominent backer in the Senate gives their efforts fresh momentum.

But Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and others still face resistance to their plans from some quarters, leading some USPS watchers to eye potential paths to compromise.

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On Friday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced that he was introducing the Senate version of legislation that Issa and others have offered in the House. The bill would, among other things, create a new oversight board to recommend cost-cutting ideas like post office closures, and supporters say it would help tame the agency’s significant labor costs.

In a release, Issa and Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), another key co-sponsor of the House GOP bill, said McCain’s move showed their measure was in good legislative position, noting it was the only one to be introduced in both houses of Congress.

The bill was also brought to the Senate the same week it passed a House Oversight subcommittee, sending it to the full committee.

But Art Sackler, coordinator of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, said the new Senate bill may work to push lawmakers closer to a compromise measure to reform USPS, which faces a dire fiscal situation.

“Having McCain fully engaged with his version of the Issa bill is a good thing. It’s good to have him in the debate,” Sackler told The Hill. “Maybe there’s a basis for everyone to come together, to devise a package that could actually make it through both houses of Congress.”

McCain introduced his bill with USPS expected to report as much as a $10 billion net loss for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The agency is also bumping up against its $15 billion borrowing limit.

But McCain’s bill is far from the only legislative vehicle in the Senate. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Tom Carper (D-Del.), both of whom have been closely watching the Postal Service situation, have introduced their own bills.

The Obama administration also included USPS proposals in the deficit-reduction plan it introduced last week, and House Democrats have their own blueprint for giving the agency a hand.

And as Sackler noted, some stakeholders, such as postal unions, are fervently opposed to the bill being pushed by Issa and McCain. Sally Davidow of the American Postal Workers Union told The Hill that the measure “would destroy the Postal Service as the American people have known it.”

Davidow also expressed disappointment that McCain, a Vietnam War veteran, would back a bill that she said would put thousands of veterans out of work.

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The agency itself also questioned parts of the bill, like the new oversight board, when it was introduced in the House in June. But USPS also said at the time that it was looking forward to working with House Republicans to find a solution for the agency’s problems.

In fact, Sackler said a main reason he was hopeful lawmakers could reach a USPS compromise was that Issa, Ross and key House Democrats on the issue, like Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), seemed open to working across party lines in last week’s Oversight subcommittee markup.

“That is a reason to give those of us who want an effective postal service preserved some hope here,” said Sackler, whose coalition includes FedEx, magazine companies and other groups looking to preserve USPS. “But it’s going to take some work to get to a package everyone can accept.”

In fact, lawmakers in both houses have to tackle whether to allow USPS to, as it has requested, get rid of Saturday delivery and implement a special rate increase.

Issa and Ross have also expressed skepticism over allowing USPS to use what it says is an overpayment into a federal retirement program to satisfy a $5.5 billion prepayment for retiree health costs. Carper and Collins favor giving the agency some freedom to use the overpayment to meet its retiree health care obligations.

USPS has already said that it won’t make payment by the Sept. 30 deadline. The short-term spending measure currently being debated in Congress would push the deadline for that payment back to November.



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