Senate gridlock freezes Postal Service board

The U.S. Postal Service says it can overcome rain, sleet and heat, but that apparently doesn’t account for Senate gridlock.

{mosads}The agency’s board of governors lost its quorum this week, with the Senate so far not taking action on six separate nominees to the body that oversees USPS’s budget and makes long-term plans for the service.

Lawmakers and aides say they hope that the Senate will confirm at least some of the nominees before Congress breaks for the year in the coming days. But both aides and lawmakers say there’s no guarantee that will happen, and business interests are also worried that the lack of a quorum could be disruptive for an agency that has lost billions of dollars in recent years.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the chairman of the Senate committee that oversees the Postal Service, said Thursday that he was hopeful that at least some of the five nominees that have cleared his Homeland Security panel would get confirmed this month.

“The sun, the moon, the stars are starting to align,” Carper told The Hill.

In total, there are 11 governors on the postal board, including the postmaster general and his or her deputy. Right now, three of the nine slots that require Senate confirmation are filled, leaving the board one governor short of the six needed to conduct business. The board also must be bipartisan, with no more than five of the nine Senate-confirmed slots coming from one political party.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee cleared four nominees for the board — including Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) — in July. Last month, the panel backed another term for the board’s current chairman, Mickey Barnett. A sixth nominee, David Shapira, has yet to be considered by the Homeland Security Committee.

In the past, even noncontroversial nominees for lower-profile positions like the postal board have often had to wait months to get confirmed. But the five potential governors awaiting full Senate consideration are also seeking a vote at a time when the two parties have been clashing for months over nominees, with Democrats eventually changing the rules for considering how to fill certain administration positions.

Lawmakers, and even the Postal Service itself, have suggested that everything will be fine as long as at least one governor is confirmed before the 113th Congress ends. The board held its last meeting on Dec. 5, days before losing its quorum when Barnett’s tenure expired on Monday.

“There is still time for the Senate to act on the nominations before Congress ends its session this year and provide the board with a quorum. The board has no scheduled meetings for the rest of this month,” a USPS spokesman said in a statement this week.

The most likely avenue for the postal nominees to get confirmed is as part of a broader package of noncontroversial nominees that would pass with the consent of every senator.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is still pushing for votes for higher-profile picks by the Obama administration, including several judges, the surgeon general nominee and Obama’s choice to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Two nominees to sit on the Postal Regulatory Commission already cleared the Senate this week by unanimous consent. But before it leaves, the Senate also still has to deal with a major defense bill, a measure to extend tax extenders and legislation to fund the government, even as the House’s efforts to pass a spending deal are in flux.

There is some controversy surrounding two of the nominees as well. One liberal group has targeted Barnett’s nomination because he previously lobbied for payday lenders in his home state of New Mexico. Liberal lawmakers have proposed that the USPS offer more financial services as a way for the agency to grow its revenue stream.

Jim Miller, a former Reagan administration seeking his second nine-year term on the board, saw his nomination barely clear the Homeland Security Committee in July. Miller has previously called for privatizing the Postal Service but said he wouldn’t advocate for that position on the board of governors. Stephen Crawford and David Bennett are the other two nominees awaiting Senate consideration. 

The wait for the postal nominees comes as Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have butted heads for years over how to revamp the Postal Service’s operations.

The agency lost $15.9 billion in fiscal 2012, but saw that figure fall to $5 billion this year due in part to a rise in its package delivery business. Lawmakers and outside groups have argued over whether the USPS should deliver letters on Saturday and about a requirement that the agency pay roughly $5.5 billion a year for future retiree healthcare.

Tags Harry Reid Tom Carper

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