Postal Updates

By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent

Will Congress act on Obama plan to rescue USPS?

February 24, 2015 11:37 AM

After President Obama sent his 2016 budget to the Congress on Feb. 2, Stephen Kearney, executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, asked, "[W]ill anyone take him up on it?"

Kearney was referring to the president's plan to rescue the United States Postal Service from its seemingly endless deficits.

The president's latest budget contains proposals "more specific" than what the White House had proposed a year earlier, noted Kearney, the former head of the USPS's stamp program.

Lawmakers failed to heed the president's suggestions last year, leaving the Postal Service in limbo.

None of the reforms two successive postmasters general have pleaded for were enacted.

Worse still, the Senate failed to approve enough nominees for the agency's Board of Governors to give it a working quorum.

The president's proposals should have been enough to generate some comment either from USPS headquarters at L'enfant Plaza or Capitol Hill.

Except for angry postal unions, the silence to the Obama postal proposals has been overwhelming.

Asked to comment, Postal Service spokeswoman Sarah Ninivaggi said that the agency "appreciates that President Obama has acknowledged the enormous value of the United States Postal Service to the nation's commerce and communications."

"In the 2016 budget, the president continued to recognize the urgent need for postal reform to ensure the Postal Service's future viability," she said.

"We look forward to working with the administration, Congress and our stakeholders to enact comprehensive legislative reform that will help stabilize our financial outlook."

That was far more encouraging than the unions were.

"The Obama administration once again has embraced an outdated philosophy that the Postal Service can — and should — cut its way to prosperity by targeting services," said National Association of Letter Carriers president Frederic Rolando.

Kearney said in his Feb. 4 Alliance Report newsletter that Obama appeared to have blended some of the Postal Service's requests with the bill that a Senate committee approved last year.

Here are the six key provisions of that bill:

1. The USPS can end Saturday deliveries when mail volume drops below an annual rate of 140 billion pieces in four consecutive quarters.

2. The USPS can begin to shift residential deliveries to curbside.

3. The emergency increase that boosted stamp prices to 49¢ will last more than two years.

4. Return to the USPS a $1.5 billion "surplus" from the Federal Employee Retirement System.

5. Revamp Postal Service payments to the Retiree Health Benefits Fund, deferring missed payments for 2015 and 2016 for a $12 billion savings.

6. Grant increased powers to the USPS board of governors to respond to new market opportunities while retaining oversight by the Postal Regulatory Commission and Congress.

That should have been sufficient to prompt a debate over the future of mail service.

But it has not happened, once again.

"We will be watching the main players closely to see whether and how legislation will emerge in 2015," Kearney wrote in his bi-weekly Alliance Report.

"We wonder whether new Postmaster General Megan Brennan will continue to push for comprehensive legislation as hard as her predecessor Patrick Donahoe did," he said.

Kearney also said he will watching the reactions of the new heads of the House and Senate committees with oversight over USPS.

They are Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.

According his website, the last news release Chaffetz published on a postal issue was in 2010.

He proposed allowing the postmaster general to declare 12 mail delivery holidays a year to save costs. The House Oversight Committee, which he now heads took no action on his idea.

Sen. Johnson has voiced few opinions on postal issues since he was named head of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. He once said he believes the USPS should be placed in bankruptcy and let the courts resolve the agency's future.