Senate Dem seeks new momentum for postal reform

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Sen. Tom CarperTom CarperCarper pushes DHS for elections to be classified critical infrastructure US Postal Service posts .57 billion loss Centrist Dems wary of public option push MORE (D-Del.) rolled out legislation to revamp how the United States Postal Service (USPS) operates on Thursday, hoping to spur new momentum for an issue that has long stalled on Capitol Hill. 

Carper, who has focused on postal issues perhaps more than any other senator, made some key changes to his last postal reform bill in an attempt to bridge the gap between lawmakers, unions and the business community and to wrestle with the challenges and opportunities provided by the Internet.

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The Delaware Democrat is releasing the new measure on his own, after previously going out of his way to introduce bipartisan bills to help shore up the financial situation of an agency that has lost billions of dollars in recent years.

“This legislation calls for shared sacrifice from all stakeholders and represents a thoughtful compromise while bringing badly needed stability to the Postal Service’s finances,” said Carper, the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Postal Service.

“This bill is a starting point and will change as I continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, including Chairman Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonDem Senate candidate: Foundation should ‘probably’ shutter if Clinton wins Senate Dems' campaign arm knocks GOP for Trump support GOP chairmen subpoena tech firms tied to Clinton's email server MORE [R-Wis.], stakeholders from rural, urban and suburban communities, businesses of all sizes, postal customers, leadership and employees.”

Carper’s bill takes a hands-off approach to one of the more divisive issues for lawmakers when it comes to the Postal Service — whether to allow the agency to scrap Saturday letter delivery. USPS has said that it wants to continue weekend delivery of packages and to even deliver on Sunday in some areas. Package delivery is an increasingly profitable area for the agency, given the rise in online shopping.

But postal unions and rural lawmakers have balked at the idea of getting rid of any parts of Saturday delivery, and Carper backed away from previous plans that would have given USPS more latitude to alter its delivery schedule.

The measure also would scrap a requirement that the Postal Service prefund retiree healthcare benefits — a mandate that has been the major driver of the agency’s losses in recent years, including a record $15.9 billion loss in 2012. The agency has defaulted on the payment for several years now.

On top of that, it would increase the number of eligible postal employees using Medicare, lock in an emergency increase in stamp prices loathed by the business community and give the USPS greater access to overpayments into pension funds.

And the measure encourages the Postal Service to move away from door-to-door to more centralized delivery wherever possible, something estimates say can be a big saver for the agency. But it would also bar USPS from closing processing centers or local post offices, another area where the agency has sought to find savings.

Carper’s attempt to breathe new life in postal reform efforts got cautious approval from both postal unions, such as the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), and his fellow lawmakers.

Fredric Rolando, president of the NALC, praised Carper’s “tireless efforts” on postal matters, even as he pointed to “several provisions we cannot support” and “a number of serious concerns.”

“We believe it is a good place to begin the conversation about how to preserve and strengthen the Postal Service for the American people, while protecting the legitimate interests of all the key stakeholders,” Rolando said.

Postal reform has become less of a priority on Capitol Hill in recent years, in part because package delivery and other factors have helped to stabilize the Postal Service’s finances.

The agency has even started running an operating profit over the last year or so, but postal officials continue to argue that the mail carrier faces structural issues that need attention to ensure the service’s long-term fiscal health.

Another issue for would-be postal reformers is that the issue doesn’t break down cleanly along party lines, with lawmakers representing rural areas especially concerned about limiting postal services and delivery standards.

Sen. Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampFeds weigh minimum train crew sizes Senate Dems push Obama for more Iran transparency Emerging technology-based consensus may help clear the air MORE (D-N.D.) praised Carper for integrating key planks from her bill to protect rural postal services into his broader measure.

“For too long, Americans living in rural areas have had their ties to outside communities severed or weakened due to unreliable mail delivery — and that’s unacceptable,” Heitkamp said.