Battle Over Postal-Service Cuts Looms in September

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tomas Carper (D-DE) delivers an opening statement during a hearing about government security clearances and background checks in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill October 31, 2013 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony from witnesses about how the government conducts background checks and how lone gunman Aaron Alexis, who had security clearance, fatally shot 12 people and injured three others in a mass shooting at the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) inside the Washington Navy Yard in Southeast Washington on September 13. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
National Journal
Billy House
Aug. 19, 2014, 1:56 p.m.

The stage is be­ing set this month for an­oth­er round of ar­gu­ment and angst over the fu­ture of the U.S. Postal Ser­vice when Con­gress re­turns to work in Septem­ber.

The latest squabble erup­ted after the USPS, which this sum­mer re­por­ted a net loss of $2 bil­lion in the second quarter of 2014, an­nounced plans to cut 15,000 jobs and con­sol­id­ate 82 mail-pro­cessing cen­ters in 2015. The Postal Ser­vice has already con­sol­id­ated 141 mail-pro­cessing fa­cil­it­ies since 2012.

Last week ex­actly half the Sen­ate wrote to ap­pro­pri­at­ors ur­ging them to block any more Postal Ser­vice cut­backs in le­gis­la­tion to fund the gov­ern­ment after Oct. 1, which Con­gress must en­act in Septem­ber to avoid a shut­down.

On Tues­day, the chair­man of the Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity and Gov­ern­ment­al Af­fairs Com­mit­tee re­spon­ded with a state­ment say­ing Con­gress should in­stead en­act com­pre­hens­ive postal re­forms “be­fore it’s too late.”

“If my col­leagues want to ad­dress these con­cerns for the long-haul, I urge them to join me this Septem­ber as we con­tin­ue our ef­forts to fix the ser­i­ous, but solv­able, fin­an­cial chal­lenges fa­cing the Postal Ser­vice,” said Sen. Thomas Carp­er, D-Del.

Carp­er and House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee Chair­man Dar­rell Issa, R-Cal­if., have been pro­mot­ing le­gis­la­tion to stream­line and mod­ern­ize the Postal Ser­vice and deal with its health care, pen­sion, and oth­er costly is­sues. But those ef­forts, in­clud­ing a re­form bill that Carp­er co­sponsored with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., have stalled.

Mean­while, the USPS con­tin­ues to drown in red ink, des­pite an in­crease in rev­en­ue in the quarter end­ing June 30. A big part of the losses stem from a con­gres­sion­al re­quire­ment to pre­pay bil­lions of dol­lars in­to a fu­ture re­tir­ee health care fund.

Last week’s let­ter signed by 50 sen­at­ors“”led by Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Tammy Bald­win, D-Wis.; and Jon Test­er, D-Mont.””called for a one-year morator­i­um on fur­ther cuts to “give Con­gress the time it needs to en­act the com­pre­hens­ive postal re­forms that are ne­ces­sary for the Postal Ser­vice to func­tion ef­fect­ively in the fu­ture.” The sen­at­ors said the planned cuts in 2015 will af­fect ser­vices in 37 states and harm loc­al com­munit­ies and eco­nom­ies.

“While a num­ber of re­form pro­pos­als have been in­tro­duced in both the Sen­ate and the House to tackle these prob­lems over the past sev­er­al years, we have yet to en­act le­gis­la­tion,” the let­ter said. “In the ab­sence of con­gres­sion­al com­prom­ise, the Postal Ser­vice has pro­posed more sweep­ing changes to its op­er­a­tions.”

The 50 sen­at­ors re­ques­ted that lan­guage be ad­ded to must-pass le­gis­la­tion to fund the gov­ern­ment in­to the next fisc­al year that starts Oct. 1. The lan­guage should block for one year any Postal Ser­vice plans to con­sol­id­ate more mail-pro­cessing fa­cil­it­ies, the let­ter said, and should im­pose a morator­i­um through fisc­al 2015 on any more re­duc­tions that would res­ult in slower first-class mail ser­vice.

On Tues­day, Carp­er’s frus­tra­tion spilled out in a writ­ten state­ment.

“If Con­gress con­tin­ues to do noth­ing, we face a fu­ture without the valu­able ser­vices the Postal Ser­vice provides. This would be a dev­ast­at­ing blow to our eco­nomy,” Carp­er warned. But he noted his and Coburn’s bill would pre­serve ex­ist­ing stand­ards, in­clud­ing the 82 mail-pro­cessing plants and Sat­urday mail de­liv­ery, “un­til oth­er re­forms have a chance to bear fruit.”

“Our bill isn’t per­fect but it is an im­port­ant step in the right dir­ec­tion. I hope my col­leagues will join our ef­forts to en­hance this plan in or­der to save the Postal Ser­vice be­fore it’s too late,” Carp­er said.

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