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Issa: Action on postal bill coming in weeks

Jul. 17, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
USPS Hearing MWM 20130213
Postmaster General Pat Donahoe said Wednesday that a shift to five-day mail delivery would save about $2 billion annually. (Mike Morones/Staff)

Despite stubborn differences with Democrats over ending Saturday mail delivery and other sticking points, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., signaled Wednesday that he will soon seek to move a comprehensive postal overhaul out of his committee.

“Our commitment is bipartisan,” Issa said at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Our need for a bill is urgent and we intend to do this in the coming weeks.” Issa is the panel’s chairman.

The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, later echoed the call to action to stabilize the U.S. Postal Service’s finances.

“It would seem if we can send somebody to the moon, we can resolve this,” Cummings said. Under a bill introduced this week, Cummings would permit the Postal Service to get into check cashing and other new lines of business; let the agency tap surplus pension funds to pay down billions of dollars in debt to the U.S. Treasury; and soften an existing mandate requiring the Postal Service to “pre-pay” about $5.5 billion each year for future retiree health benefits.

“The bill would allow the Postal Service to operate more like the business it was meant to be,” Cummings said.

The bill differs dramatically from a draft measure unveiled last month by Issa. Among other features, the draft—which has not been formally introduced—would give USPS leaders a green light to halt Saturday delivery and replace the part-time board of governors with five full-time executives until the Postal Service turns a profit.

While Issa’s draft abandons some controversial elements–such as a proposed BRAC-like commission to target post offices for closings—contained in an earlier bill, Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., objected Wednesday that the scrapping of six-day delivery would eliminate an essential “competitive advantage” for the Postal Service.

To the Postal Service, which lost almost $16 billion last year, ending Saturday mail delivery is a critical step on the road to financial recovery. But after attempting to proceed along those lines earlier this year, USPS leaders had to retreat when Congress refused to drop a long-standing ban on cutting delivery days.

At the hearing, Postmaster General Pat Donahoe nonetheless reiterated that a shift to five-day mail delivery would save about $2 billion annually. Under the USPS plan, Saturday package delivery would continue, in part so the agency could continue to capitalize on an expanding part of its business.

The rapid growth in package and shipping revenue is one reason that the Postal Service is so far doing marginally better than expected this year. While the agency had projected losses of about $7.6 billion in fiscal 2013, the actual amount of red ink will be between $6 billion and $6.4 billion, Donahoe said.

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