One way or another, it looks like a major congressional battle is headed our way over the U.S. Postal Service’s long-sought goal of ending most six-day mail delivery. One possible flash point is the postal overhaul bill (H.R. 2309) sponsored by Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Dennis Ross, R-Fla., which would allow postal officials to begin moving to five-day delivery within six months of the legislation’s being signed into law.
The House’s Republican leadership had hoped to bring the Issa measure to the floor this month; earlier this week, the National Association of Letter Carriers said its “most urgent goal is to prevent this devastating bill from ever becoming law” and announced that it was setting up a toll-free number for members to contact individual lawmakers in opposition.
With mail volume in steady decline, curtailing six-day delivery is at the top of the Postal Service’s cost-cutting agenda. The projected savings are close to $3 billion per year. But the NALC, whose members obviously have a lot to lose, says that step would “destroy” 200,000 jobs. In today’s fractured Congress, this is one of those rare issues that can bring lawmakers together across party lines, raising questions about whether the Issa/Ross bill can pass. A slim bipartisan majority of 222 House members have signed on to a non-binding resolution sponsored by Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., urging the Postal Service to stick with the status quo.
And late Wednesday, a Ross spokesman confirmed an online report by The Hill newspaper that chances of action on the bill this month are now slim. “It appears, although we have the votes, leadership does not intend for postal reform to come to the floor before [the]August recess,” the spokesman, Fred Piccolo, told FedLine in an email.
But there’s another front in this fight. Even though the Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses, it still has to abide by the wishes of congressional appropriators. And both the House and Senate versions of the fiscal 2013 financial services and general government spending bills would require continuation of six-day delivery.
Six-day delivery “is one of the most important services provided by the federal government to its citizens,” the Senate Appropriations Committee wrote in an explanatory report accompanying its version of the bill. “Especially in rural and small-town America, this critical postal service is the linchpin that serves to bind the nation together.”
The Senate bill would also put new restrictions on the Postal Service’s freedom to close mail processing plants, raising alarms from the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, a mailers’ group. Although individual members have different views on the potential benefits of cutting mail service, “we are united in our conviction that the Postal Service must reduce its operational capacity,” the coalition said in a letter to top members of the appropriations committees this week. “Bringing in additional issues can only generate additional uncertainty and potential delay in the passage of reform legislation that is so critical to returning the Postal Service to financial stability.”
[This story has been updated]