Postal overhaul bill finally passes Senate, heads to conference

Sweeping postal overhaul legislation passed the Senate by unanimous consent today after the sponsors made changes to appease critics. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Collins and Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., added amendments that finally dislodged the bill, which had been stalled on the floor.

The manager's amendment included language offered by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, that would change a provision in a 2002 law that requires the Postal Service to deliver mail using newer, larger planes. Small airports in Alaska cannot accommodate those planes.

The revised language would give the Postal Service the option of using smaller planes so that rural Alaskans can continue to get mail service, a spokeswoman for Stevens said. "These rural communities rely on the small carriers for access," Stevens' spokeswoman said.

Stevens' amendment held up the measure Wednesday night because some senators wanted assurances from the Office of Management and Budget that the proposal was budget neutral.

The manager's amendment also included language, requested by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, calling for the Postal Service to solicit broader public comment before consolidating mail facilities. A large mail facility in Sioux City, Iowa, could be closed, he has said.

Finally, language worked out between the measure's sponsors and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would revise term limits and qualifications the original bill set for members of the Postal Service's board of governors.

The measure now faces a contentious conference. The administration objects to language that would transfer payment of the Postal Service's military pensions, about $27 billion, back to the Treasury and give the agency access to money slated for an escrow account.

The House bill, which was approved overwhelmingly last year, contains the same provisions. The White House has threatened to veto the bill if the language remains intact.

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