A new USPS legislation setback

By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent

Prospects for legislation that the United States Postal Service has called vital for its survival suffered a potentially serious setback May 7.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., canceled a planned markup of legislation he had promised would mirror President Obama’s plan for the financially troubled Postal Service.

Issa blamed Democrats for the delay, saying no Democrat on his committee had endorsed his bill.

The chairman did not announce when the committee might vote.

The Issa postal proposal was a rare endorsement of a president whom the Southern California lawmaker has often denounced.

Major postal unions and the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service attacked the chairman’s proposal.

The group of major mailers dislikes the idea of making the 49¢ first-class letter rate permanent, a provision that Issa’s bill includes.

The House Oversight Committee may hold the key to whether Congress will enact any postal legislation this year.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., a member of the Oversight panel, blamed the Postal Service for some of the inaction.

He told the Federal Times, a newspaper for federal workers, that the Postal Service is insisting on sweeping major reforms and not accepting a bill that would reform only a controversial provision that makes the agency prepay the health care costs of its retirees.

“It is incredibly disappointing that as the proverbial ship is sinking, the postmaster general appears obsessed with stubbornly insisting that the deck chairs be arranged precisely as he wishes, rather than urgently acting to secure relief in plugging the hole that is responsible for the sinking the entire ship,” Connolly told the publication.

Ben Cooper, a lobbyist with the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, said that until the Postal Service addresses the concerns of many Democrats and rural Republicans over the proposed cuts in mail delivery standards, no postal bill is likely to clear the House.

“This is not so much a mailing industry issue as a congressional issue,” Cooper said.

Frederic Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, expressed delight that the House committee took no action “on this counterproductive bill.”

“With the Postal Service now operationally profitable, any bill that diminishes service to the public and to businesses will stop the postal turnaround in its tracks by driving mail and revenue out of the system,” Rolando said.

“Instead, lawmakers should fix the absurd mandate to pre-fund future retiree health benefits, which accounts for 100 percent of USPS ‘losses’ and which is required of no other public or private entity.”

The Postal Service said in a statement, “We continue to urge Congress to move comprehensive postal reform legislation forward that gives the Postal Service the flexibility needed to meet our customers’ changing mailing and shipping needs and helps return the Postal Service to profitability.”