Postal overhaul bill unlikely to move this year, key aides say

The House member leading the charge for postal overhaul said Wednesday the issue is still alive this year, but key House Republican and Democratic aides said postal legislation is unlikely to make much progress.

Addressing a meeting of the Direct Marketing Association, which strongly supports overhaul, Brian Gaston, chief of staff for House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Cory Alexander, chief of staff for Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., both agreed Republican leadership is likely to spend the remainder of the congressional session on tax cut permanence, business litigation reforms, job creation bills and the budget -- not postal change.

In a session truncated by elections, Gaston said, "not much else is likely to be on the agenda. What we really needed to get done, we did last year."

Gaston said postal legislation, which Government Reform Chairman Davis plans to introduce next week, is coming too late to pass in this Congress. "If we were going to do it, we should have started the process last year," Gaston said.

Alexander said House Republican leadership has not given the issue the attention it would need to pass. "We don't even need to talk about the details [of proposed legislation], because this hasn't been made a priority," he said. "It's not a must-do, major, national political issue."

But the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's special postal panel, Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., said he and Davis are committed to passing a bill this year.

Speaking to the same DMA meeting earlier Wednesday, McHugh said Davis is "doing everything he can" to pass legislation this session.

McHugh also said he does not think a successful bill could include major changes in postal workforce policies.

Many overhaul advocates are pushing for sweeping labor changes, including outsourcing certain postal human-resources jobs or opening worker health benefits to collective bargaining. But McHugh said labor unions' clout among lawmakers would stymie any major workforce changes.

"Given the party dynamics of both houses, you can't pass anything the unions object to," McHugh said. "If this bill is to be passed, broad-based changes to the employee workroom situation can't be included."

But McHugh said two other controversial issues -- ending the Postal Service's mandatory escrow account and restoring the responsibility for military retirement benefits to the Treasury Department -- are essential elements in a bill.

He said he has been "frustrated" by the Bush administration's opposition to those provisions, but he and Davis are "bound and determined" to include them as they draft a bill.

DMA president Robert Wientzen, however, said Wednesday he was not optimistic lawmakers could agree on those two issues.

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