The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, passed a bill to end Saturday mail delivery. (Mike Morones / Staff)
A House committee approved a Republican bill late Wednesday that would let the U.S. Postal Service immediately halt Saturday mail delivery, defer more than $20 billion in payments for future retiree health care and require postal labor unions to accept the possibility of layoffs in future contracts.
The 22-17 party-line vote by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee marked the first concrete congressional move this year to overhaul Postal Service operations, which continue to bleed red ink. But the partisan split highlighted the hurdles ahead for the measure, sponsored by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. In its current form, the bill has little chance of getting through the Democrat-controlled Senate.
“We’re a lot closer together than we were in the previous Congress, but we still have a long way to go,” Issa acknowledged in an interview afterward. Issa said he hopes to move his bill through the full House in September while working with the Senate on a final version of the legislation.
At present, however, the Senate has yet to take up its own brand of postal legislation; Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate committee responsible for the Postal Service, said in a release that he remains committed to introducing a bipartisan bill as soon as possible.
In a statement, USPS spokesman Dave Partenheimer thanked the House committee for recognizing the “urgent need” for a comprehensive fix. Postal officials will evaluate the measure to see whether it meets the agency’s goal of saving $20 billion by 2017, Partenheimer said, adding that they look forward to working with Issa “to improve the bill as it makes its way through the legislative process.”
Although the bill resembles legislation Issa unsuccessfully pushed in 2011-2012, it contains some changes. Issa, for example, dropped a provision that would have allowed a specially appointed USPS board to reopen existing union contracts to gain concessions. The new bill would also write off about $11 billion that the Postal Service failed to pay in 2011 and 2012 for future retiree health care and eliminate similar-sized payments due this year and next. Starting in 2015, the Postal Service would resume payments on a less aggressive schedule intended to achieve full funding by 2056.
Like its predecessor, however, the current bill would again give the Postal Service a green light to end Saturday mail delivery. That step, which Postmaster General Pat Donahoe has said would save some $2 billion annually, is anathema to letter carrier unions. Under the legislation, Saturday package delivery would continue. The bill would also phase out most remaining door-to-door delivery over the next decade in favor of neighborhood cluster boxes and curbside service, with predicted savings of more than $4 billion per year, according to a committee summary.
“The Postal Service isn’t just broke; the Postal Service is far below insolvency,” Issa said.
The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, labeled such measures “extreme” and announced at the outset of Wednesday’s meeting that no Democrats would support Issa’s bill. Cummings’ own measure, which would also give the Postal Service relief for future retiree health care funding and allow the agency to get into check-cashing and other new business lines, was rejected on a 17-22 vote.
In other action, the committee approved bills that would:
■ Limit both the size of bonuses to senior federal executives and the number of senior officials who can receive bonuses in a particular year.
■ Make it easier for agencies to suspend employees without pay when they are under investigation for alleged misconduct.
■ Assure individuals of their right to record meetings and phone calls with federal regulatory officials.