By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent
There is something new in the air these days in Washington, and it isn’t the aroma of spring flowers.
It’s the idea that after years of delay, Congress is about to address the long-standing financial plight of the United States Postal Service, a situation lawmakers largely created with a 2006 law.
Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan, not one to make rash promises, acknowledged May 10 that she was “cautiously optimistic” that lawmakers might finally address her agency’s financial woes.
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Fredric Rolando of National Association of Letter Carriers, who has been arguing that the mail service already is back on track financially, spoke of an “emerging consensus among key lawmakers, the Postal Service, postal unions, businesses, mailers and industry groups to move forward with practical reform that all stakeholders can buy into.”
Those hopes were buoyed significantly May 11 when House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, gaveled his committee to a hearing on “Finding a viable solution” to the USPS’s problems.
Chaffetz, whose panel has been less active than the Senate on postal issues, promised action.
“We cannot ignore this,” he said, calling a healthy postal system vital to the U.S. economy.
At the end of the session, the chairman surprised some by announcing that his committee would have draft legislation to address the Postal Service’s financial trouble in a couple of weeks.
“We are going to get postal reform,” agreed Rep. Gerald Connelly, D-Va., one of several committee members who have been working on the legislation for several weeks.
Connelly cautioned that it “may be not everything” all sides want.
For the Postal Service, Brennan made clear what four markers the USPS has for the legislation.
First and foremost, she said, was requiring postal retirees to use Medicare as their primary insurance. The step alone could save the USPS $17.5 billion over the next four years and reduce significantly the Postal Service’s mandate to prepay the healthcare costs of its retirees.
Brennan also wants Congress to order a return of the 49¢ first-class postage stamp and other temporary rate increases that ended April 10.
She also wants the Postal Service’s retirement liability to be calculated on “postal-specific assumptions” rather than government-wide retiree assumptions and “limited additional product flexibility.”
Gone from her demands were a return to five-day home mail deliveries, mandatory use of neighborhood style mailboxes, and other suggestions that have gained no political traction in Congress.
Those requested steps could give the USPS $32 billion in savings through 2020, she said, putting the nation’s postal service on a path to financial stability.
The questions she got, especially from several conservative Republicans, indicate that there are still lawmakers yet to be convinced that the plan is a good one.
Democrats seemed to be supportive and eager to move legislation quickly.
“We cannot kick the can further down the road,” agreed Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.