Lawmakers decry postal losses

Lawmakers and stakeholders, responding to the latest round of financial losses for the U.S. Postal Service, believe Congress should do something to help the cash-strapped agency.

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But they still don’t agree on what the help should be.

The Postal Service announced Friday that it lost $1.9 billion in the latest quarter, the 20th quarter it has lost money out of the last 22.

In announcing the losses, postal officials prodded Congress for legislation to help the agency shore up its finances. The USPS, which has lost tens of billions of dollars in recent years, wants to roll back Saturday delivery of letters but keep six-day package delivery, and get relief from a required prepayment for future retirees’ healthcare.

Both House and Senate panels have passed postal reform bills this Congress, but leaders in both chambers have shown little interest in those bills.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) postponed a planned mark-up of another postal bill this week after he failed to round up support of Democrats. The measure was based on President Obama’s proposal and included the end of Saturday letter delivery and making a temporary increase in the price of stamps permanent.

"The latest quarter of staggering losses for the U.S. Postal Service drives home the agency's dire financial situation,” Issa said in a Friday statement.

“Both President Obama and myself support a series of cost-cutting reforms, but House Democrats continue to oppose all real reform efforts, including those supported by the President. I urge my Democratic colleagues to join President Obama and myself in supporting cost-cutting reforms that will finally restore the Postal Service to solvency."

Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), authors of the Senate postal bill, also made the case that the losses showed it was time for Congress and the administration to get moving.

“The harsh reality is that it’s likely we’ll continue to see the U.S. Postal Service suffer unsustainable losses that threaten its long-term viability until Congress acts, Carper said. “Congress and the Administration need to come to agreement on comprehensive legislation that reforms, right-sizes and modernizes this American institution.”

“Without structural reform, taxpayers are going to keep seeing the Postal Service’s losses pile up,” Coburn said. “Both the Senate and the House have reform bills that would fix the problem. It’s time for Congress to get something passed before another quarter goes by.”

Outside Congress, the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, which represents the mailing industry, used the losses to make its case that the postal rate increase was dragging the agency down.

“The postal system can’t continue on this downward trend without disastrous consequences,” said the coalition’s Art Sackler. “Congress needs to take action on postal reform, and do it in a way that encourages more businesses to use the mail.”

But postal unions saw the recent quarterly numbers as a positive, saying it showed that the real problem for the agency was the healthcare prepayment.

The USPS has already defaulted on three of those payments, totaling close to $17 billion in all, in recent years, and says it will default on a $5.7 billion installment at the end of the current fiscal year.

"Given these positive trends, it would be irresponsible to degrade services to the public, which would drive away mail — and revenue — and stop the postal turnaround in its tracks,” said Fredric Rolando, the president of the National Association of Letter Carriers. “Lawmakers shouldn't dismantle postal network that is profitable in meeting the needs of an evolving society.”

Rolando said lawmakers should instead focus their efforts on the prepayment. But postal officials say repealing that alone wouldn’t be enough to shore up the agency’s finances.

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