Bipartisanship fading for House bill on postal overhaul

House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., and ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., have not yet reached agreement on labor provisions, rate caps and others issues in a postal overhaul measure scheduled for markup Wednesday, bill proponents say.

Although the bill has enough support from GOP panel members to pass on party lines, Davis wants to preserve the bipartisan consensus that paved the way for the panel's unanimous approval last year.

"A partisan bill isn't an option here," said a GOP committee aide. "There are too many moving parts, too many constituencies, that have little or nothing to do with party affiliation. It's a fragile coalition that makes postal reform possible, and any move toward heavy-handed partisanship threatens to destroy it."

Davis also is facing pressure from House leaders to incorporate administration proposals, including changes to carefully crafted labor provisions.

"They're not going to take the time or the energy to move forward on a bill that the White House would veto," said Gene Del Polito, president of the Association for Postal Commerce.

Davis and Waxman met late Monday to reach a compromise on work-sharing discounts, which allow the agency to offer lower rates to large mailers for presorting mail and other tasks normally done by postal workers.

A bill introduced in the Senate last month by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., included a compromise on work-sharing agreed to by the bulk mailers, the Postal Service and the American Postal Workers Union. Lobbyists say union officials and Waxman prefer the House bill's handling of that issue and are aiming to fend off a possible GOP amendment at the markup.

The House language places a four-year limitation on discounts, which the Senate compromise drops. Bulk mailers would rather see the broader provision in the Senate bill but could push for it at a later stage in the process -- including a House-Senate conference.

"I think it's moving in the right direction," said Ben Cooper, who tracks legislation for the Printing Industries of America. "There's very little question that the bill that comes out of the House committee is going to be a bill that doesn't satisfy all of the mailing community. But you don't get to second base without passing first base."

Sources say Davis, Waxman and the bill's chief sponsor, Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., will not back the administration on two major sticking points between the White House and Congress: the handling of the postal service's escrow account and the requirement that the Postal Service cover the cost of employees' military pensions. Last year, White House objections to those provisions kept the legislation from moving to the floor of either chamber. The Postal Service has begun the process of raising its rates and has said it might seek further increases if the legislation does not pass this year.

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