By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent
There is, of course, no certainty that the draft postal legislation the House Oversight Committee released June 15 will become law, but if it does it would significantly alter the way the United States Postal Service has operated since 1971.
That’s because the legislation, which has bipartisan support on the committee, would once again make the postmaster general and the deputy postmaster general presidential appointees.
The bill would allow for a 1¢ increase in the price of a first-class stamp, tell Postal Service retirees to use Medicare as their primary health insurance, and allow “voluntary conversion” to centralized or cluster mailboxes.
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Much of the proposed legislation is not what Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan sought when she appeared before the House committee May 12, but chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, warned at the hearing that he was troubled by how the USPS is run and was likely to urge changes.
His committee’s legislation would do that, replacing the current nine presidential nominees who compose the Postal Service’s board of governors with a five-member board. (Only one member is currently on the board because President Obama’s other appointments have been blocked in the Senate.)
The new board would serve as a “consultant” to the postmaster general, whom the board would no longer appoint.
Instead, the House bill would let the president name the two top postal officers to four-year terms, subject to Senate confirmation.
All this would end President Richard Nixon’s plan that transformed the old Post Office Department into the USPS, an independent entity within the federal bureaucracy.
Whether a president would welcome the postmaster general back into the cabinet would apparently be up to the president, but the House bill seems to signal that lawmakers have decided that the nation’s chief executive should have a greater role in overseeing the Postal Service.
Three successive postmasters, all appointed by the board, have argued for changes in the 2006 postal law that forced the USPS into its current financial crisis. None has been able to rally the public to the Postal Service’s plight as a concerned president could.
In calling for the changes, the House Oversight Committee echoed the fact that the USPS “is in dire financial shape. Without reform now, the problems will only worsen and reform will become far more difficult to accomplish.”
“This bipartisan legislative solution provides the opportunity for the Postal Service to return to solvency and to continue to provide universal service to all Americans,” the committee said.
Brennan said in a brief statement that she thanked the panel for releasing the draft, which she said postal officials “will carefully review.”
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who has been the leading Senate proponent of postal reforms, also welcomed the House bill.
“We must now work quickly to find consensus between the House and Senate proposals,” he said in a news release. “If we delay any longer and fail to get postal reform enacted this year, the Postal Service’s already dire situation will only get worse.”
Whether both chambers can agree on a bill that will revamp the USPS will be a challenge.
But that’s not the only legislative issue facing the USPS.
The House Appropriations Committee on June 9 approved an amendment that would require the USPS to restore the mail delivery standards that were in place before Jan. 5, 2015.
“If it is passed into law, the bill would require the Postal Service to restore overnight mail delivery within metropolitan areas and towns and reestablish the 2- and 3-day delivery standards for first-class mail and periodicals that were wiped out in 2015,” said Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union.
“But this is just the first step in a long process,” the union leader said, noting that the House and Senate must concur with the proposed changes.
A similar provision was added by the House last year but it died in the Senate, the APWU said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., placed a hold on the nominations to the postal board. He has said he wanted the USPS to offer banking services and would appoint board members who could provide better oversight than the current board.
But the apparent failure of Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination leaves two presumptive presidential nominees: Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, neither of whom have a stated position on the future of the USPS.