A U.S. Postal Service employee delivers an Express Mail package in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)
A key lawmaker plans to introduce comprehensive postal legislation soon, with hopes for final passage by October.
“I think we’re close,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said at a Wednesday hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Asked afterward when he would proceed with a bill, Issa, the committee’s chairman, said only “very soon.”
While lawmakers’ previous predictions of progress on a comprehensive bill have not panned out, one mail industry representative said the four-hour hearing left him optimistic.
“I got a clear sense that [Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the committee’s top Democrat] and Issa were more than willing to work together, that they both have come to the point in time where they realize something needs to be done,” said Gene Del Polito, president of the Association for Postal Commerce, a trade group of businesses that rely heavily on the mail.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, also hopes to proceed soon with a bill, a spokeswoman said later via email.
The hearing on the U.S. Postal Service’s financial plight came a week after Congress forced the agency to halt plans to end Saturday mail delivery starting in August. Cutting back Saturday mail delivery would have saved an estimated $2 billion a year, USPS has said.
Postmaster General Pat Donahoe said cutting back Saturday delivery is only one of nine steps that Congress must approve for the Postal Service to return to financial viability.
“We’ve made some big, big changes, but there are still some things we need to do to get costs down,” Donahoe said. Also high on the USPS wish list is creation of its own health plan that would end a legal requirement to funnel about $5.5 billion annually into a fund for future retiree health care benefits; the plan would also require retirees to move to Medicare.
While postal officials have previously said that creation of a USPS plan would entail pulling more than 1 million workers and retirees out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, Donahoe said he could “work within” FEHBP if given the latitude to tailor a plan to the agency’s needs.
Issa and Cummings agreed that the Postal Service cannot stay on its current path.
“If we can’t get this done,” Cummings said, “we might as well go home.”