Sanders leads push to change Senate postal bill

The measure would allow USPS to scrap Saturday delivery after two years; offer postal employees incentives to retire, using a surplus from a federal retirement program; and spread out required payments that USPS has to make for retiree healthcare over four decades.

As it stands, the Postal Service has lost billions and billions of dollars in recent years, and policymakers all generally agree that the agency needs to revamp how it operates.

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But Sanders’s push also underscores the different philosophies that groups are employing when it comes to postal reform.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, who says that his agency needs to slice $20 billion from its annual budget by 2015, has called for closing local post offices and processing facilities, and has also asked for the authority to move to five-day delivery.

Donahoe has also said that, if Congress doesn’t act, USPS could run out of money by August. The closing of processing facilities, which the Postal Service wouldn’t follow through on until May, could also largely lead to the elimination of next-day delivery for first-class mail.

But Sanders and postal unions maintain that those sorts of cuts are the wrong way to attract customers in an increasingly digital world.

“At a time when the Postal Service is facing very significant financial problems from email and the Internet, slowing down mail delivery service does not make any sense at all,” Sanders said Monday.

The Vermont senator has, among other things, pressed for lawmakers to establish a blue-ribbon panel that would look for new ways to allow the Postal Service to raise revenue.

The bipartisan Senate bill would allow USPS to ship beer and wine, but Sanders has said he wants to find other ways for the agency to take advantage of the increase in Internet shopping.

Sanders also wants to stave off the closure of rural post offices, to keep current delivery standards in place and for USPS to wait at least four years before going to five-day delivery.

On Monday, Sanders also called for taking away the required annual $5.5 billion prepayments for retiree healthcare, which USPS has not yet paid for the previous fiscal year.

To bolster his case, the Vermont senator circulated a letter from the Postal Service’s inspector general that the agency had a healthy pension and healthcare fund, and that the pre-funding of retiree healthcare was rare.

For their part, supporters of the Senate bill have said that the measure is a bipartisan compromise that has the best chance among congressional proposals to garner widespread support.

A House GOP bill, which progressed through the Oversight Committee without a Democratic vote, has yet to be considered on the House floor. That measure would, among other things, empower a new oversight board to recommend cost-cutting measures.

A spokeswoman for Carper also said Monday that the Delaware Democrat shares Sanders’s concerns about the Postal Service’s future and was committed to working together on the issue.

But Emily Spain, the spokeswoman, added: “Make no mistake, some sacrifices from postal management, postal employees and postal customers will be necessary if we want to ensure that this important American institution can survive.”

With the Postal Service potentially having just months of cash left, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also said Monday that there was plenty of time to address the concerns outlined by Sanders and still get needed postal reforms completed.

“Listen: If we do things the way we should do them, there’s plenty of time,” said Leahy, who decried filibusters and other parliamentary procedures being used in the Senate. “I’ve been here long enough to see far, far more complex issues decided by the House and the Senate in the matter of a couple of weeks.”