Issa’s legacy bill hits industry opposition

Issa’s legacy bill hits industry opposition
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Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) attempt to burnish his legacy as Oversight Committee Chairman with an overhaul of the U.S. Postal Service is running into a gauntlet of business opposition.

Issa, seeking to spur momentum for a postal reform deal in what are likely his final months with the gavel, is preparing his panel to consider legislation on Wednesday modeled after President Obama’s budget.

Issa has made clear he hopes a bill based on the White House’s plan would help him win Democratic support, which his previous proposals have lacked.

But greeting-card makers, banks and a host of other sectors have swung into action, after a circulated draft of Issa’s plan included a proposal to make permanent a temporary increase in the price of stamps and other postal rates.

Some of those groups are also against giving the Postal Service greater authority to roll back Saturday service. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have similarly argued for keeping six-day delivery.

Still, Art Sackler of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, which strongly opposes the postal rate increase, acknowledged that his group didn’t have a lot of time to marshal opposition to Issa’s bill.

The group, whose membership includes Bank of America, Verizon and advocates for the paper and newspaper industries, urged committee members to delay the mark-up in a letter last week, saying that permanently increasing prices would be a terrible decision for the struggling Postal Service.

“A lot of folks are very, very concerned about this,” Sackler told The Hill. “We really think increasing rates would undo much of the progress that has been made in fixing the Postal Service.”

Rafe Morrissey of the Greeting Card Association, which opposes both the rate increase and any reduction in Saturday delivery, sounded a similar note. “We believe that the collection of proposals are not sufficient to address the Postal Service’s issues,” he said.

Postal unions also oppose any shift toward five-day delivery, and one labor official predicted that Issa’s gambit wouldn’t attract Democratic support. Several Democrats at an April hearing suggested they had problems with some of the administration’s proposed fixes for the Postal Service.

The lobbying efforts against Issa’s new bill come as the Oversight Committee chairman and his counterparts in the Senate try to find a solution that could satisfy a wide range of stakeholders while helping the USPS adapt to evolving business challenges.

Issa’s previous postal bill, which the committee passed in July, already had some overlap with the administration’s prescriptions, like the proposal to move toward more centralized mail delivery and away from door-to-door delivery.

The Oversight Committee chairman hadn’t embraced the temporary rate increase, which the Postal Service’s regulator approved in December. But mailing industry officials said they thought Issa switched gears to get more in sync with the White House budget.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and other postal officials have said that they’d like to stop delivering letters on Saturday, after years of declines in first-class mail volume. But the agency wants to keep six-day delivery of packages, a part of the business that has been growing steadily, thanks to the rise of online shopping.

Some portions of Obama’s proposal have support from Democrats and postal unions, including easing the pressure of a required prepayment for future retirees’ healthcare that the agency has defaulted on three times in recent years.

Postal observers say they believe Issa, currently in the last of his six scheduled years as top Republican at the Oversight Committee, sees legislation to revamp the USPS as a way to boost his legacy as chairman.

A GOP aide said Monday that Issa preferred the plan that his committee passed last year but that the new measure would intensify the pressure on Democrats to compromise.

“The real question here is, are Democrats really so unwilling to engage in common-sense cost-cutting that they’ll even vote down President Obama’s plan,” the aide said.

But mailing industry officials and congressional aides say getting a measure to the president’s desk this year is a tall task, even during the lame-duck session after the midterm elections. They said the momentum for postal reform has waned as the Postal Service’s finances have improved.

The agency lost close to $16 billion in fiscal 2012, mostly from defaults on the healthcare prepayment. But that figure slipped to $5 billion in 2013, leading many stakeholders to be less open to compromise.

Still, Sackler of the Coalition for the 21st Century Postal Service said the USPS remains in financial trouble.

“It’s sort of almost a false reassurance,” he said about the lack of urgency. “They’re still really close to the edge.”