Senators urge no more postal closings

The four original sponsors of Senate postal legislation are urging the U.S. Postal Service to extend a moratorium on closing facilities until Congress finishes its work on the issue. 

With the moratorium set to lapse in two weeks, Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) noted that the legislation that passed their chamber included a resolution calling on the Postal Service to push back any plans to close post offices or processing centers.

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“There is considerable concern in the Senate that this approach will unnecessarily degrade the infrastructure which is one of the Postal Service’s most important assets,” the four senators, senior members of the Homeland Security Committee, told Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe in a letter Monday. 

“We believe an attempt to proceed with the planned closures — to ‘get in under the wire’ while legislation to the contrary is being considered — would be counterproductive and would violate the clear intent of the Senate.”

Lieberman and other senators, like Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), also pressed Donahoe to extend the moratorium last week, as the Senate debated and eventually passed its proposal.

Donahoe and postal officials agreed late last year to not close any facilities until at least May 15, at the request of lawmakers who wanted some space to negotiate a postal reform bill. 

But while the Senate has passed its legislation, the House has yet to schedule floor time for its Republican-sponsored measure. The bills in the two chambers also have stark differences, meaning any legislation that passes the House would likely need to be melded with the Senate proposal. 

In addition to their letter to Donahoe, the four senators wrote Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to urge the House to move quickly on its legislation.

Carper has also put a countdown clock on his website, marking the hours and seconds until the May 15 deadline.

As part of its plan to cut some $20 billion in annual costs by 2015, USPS has said that it is examining the need for thousands of local post offices and more than 200 processing centers. The Postal Service’s own plan would largely eliminate next-day delivery of first-class mail and scrap Saturday delivery. 

But Donahoe also said last week that any closures of processing centers would be handled methodically, after more than a few lawmakers complained about the possible shuttering of those facilities in their states or districts.

The postmaster general added that, for the coming months, his agency was looking more at installing shorter hours at certain local post offices than closing them.  

“It’s very reasonable on these smaller post offices that we can work out an arrangement, that we can get the costs in order and we can keep them open,” Donahoe said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers.”

In their letter, the four senators noted that their legislation gives USPS the chance to find new sources of revenue and use a surplus in a federal fund to ease as many as 100,000 workers into retirement. 

The Senate bill would also lessen the sting of required prepayments that USPS has to make for retiree health care, but delays the Postal Service’s ability to move to five-day delivery and close certain facilities.

The four sponsors of that measure have also pressed the House to move forward with its own legislation so the two chambers can move forward with a conference.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee and sponsor of the House postal legislation, has sharply criticized the Senate bill and said the amending process in that chamber made the bill worse. 

The House bill does not ease the retiree prepayments as much as the Senate bill does, but it does allow USPS to move more quickly on cost-cutting measures. 

Donahoe has urged lawmakers to finish their work by the end of the month and said that taking the best parts of each chamber’s bill would solidify the service’s finances.