A surprise alliance to save the United States Postal Service

By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent

There was more than a little irony in the latest twist in the Congressional drama over how to help the financially beleaguered United States Postal Service.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., appeared to be dashing to the aid of President Barack Obama when he promised at an April 8 hearing to adopt the White House’s postal proposals.

That is legislation that many Democrats in both the House and Senate oppose — a fact that was not lost on Issa or his Republican colleagues.

In the House, Issa said, “It seems that any reform that would reduce the postal workforce, even through attrition, is opposed by my Democratic colleagues.

“In the Senate there seems to be a consistent pattern that postal reform is necessary as long as it closes no post offices and no processing centers in any city of each and every senator,” he declared.

Until now, neither the White House nor the Postal Service has made much of those postal proposals that were, as Issa noted, tucked inside the Obama budget for fiscal 2015.

And for Issa to adopt them was something of a surprise.

From his perch as head of the House Oversight Committee, he has been a bete noire to the Obama administration. He has attacked the Obamacare program, IRS investigations of conservative groups and the attacks on the Benghazi mission in Libya.

But at a two-hour hearing with a deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget as his only witness, Issa and his GOP backers stressed how close they believe the House GOP and the White House are on agreeing on postal reform. Issa announced he was willing to “embrace to the greatest extent possible” the president’s postal programs.

Hard to believe for some, coming from the man whose last postal bill passed the Oversight committee with no Democratic support.

He voiced only one objection, questioning whether Congress should make permanent the recent 3¢ increase in the cost of a first-class stamp.

“But sans that, the rest of the proposal I find to be a good starting point for legislation that hopefully the administration would broadly push all parties to embrace,” Issa said.

He spoke optimistically of moving it into a conference with the Senate “where we could make the president’s budget proposal a reality.”

What that means is support for ending Saturday letter-mail deliveries, spreading the cost of healthcare coverage for postal retirees over 40 years instead of 10, and moves toward cluster mailboxes and curbside deliveries “where feasible.” These are steps that Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Brian C. Deese said could give the USPS more time to recover from the crippling decline of first-class mail.

House Democrats on the Oversight Committee were not delighted over the chairman’s endorsement of Obama’s postal program.

“Good luck in trying to persuade Democrats into [supporting] five-day” deliveries, quipped Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., who counts dozens of relatives as postal workers and retirees, said it would take major changes for him to support the president’s program.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee is pressing a bipartisan postal bill that contains a number of different provisions and would increase the powers of the Postal Service at the expense of the Postal Regulatory Commission.

That has worried some big mailing groups, but many postal lobbyists have been predicting that Congress would once again deadlock on postal legislation this year.

Even if his move flounders, Issa at least has managed to raise hopes that a fiercely partisan Republican might pressure some Democrats into backing their own president on what used to be a nonpartisan issue: helping the Postal Service survive.