White House floating compromise on postal overhaul bill

Lobbyists say the White House is offering a possible compromise on postal overhaul legislation -- scheduled for House floor action Tuesday -- that could break a stalemate with lawmakers.

The legislation would shift the Postal Service's payments for military pensions to the Treasury Department, a move the administration opposes. Under the White House proposal, the Postal Service's $27 billion in payments to date for military pensions could be used to finance the agency's retiree health benefits.

The agency would be required to make the military pension payments in the future.

The White House also has suggested allowing the Postal Service to borrow at least $2 billion in each of the next two years, instead of giving the agency access to money slated for an escrow account, as dictated by both House and Senate bills, according to the lobbyists. Those borrowed funds could be used to help hold down rates in the short term, while ensuring the legislation does not contribute to the federal deficit, lobbyists said.

"What they have is a basis for agreement," said Ben Cooper, who tracks legislation for the Printing Industries of America. "It isn't finalized by any standard yet."

The proposal is unlikely to find its way into a manager's amendment or other amendments offered by House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., when the House considers the bill, according to Cooper and Gene Del Polito, president of the Association of Postal Commerce.

Cooper said if an agreement is reached, the new language would be more likely to be added when the Senate considers its version of the measure, or in conference because of the "delicate politics" behind the legislation. A spokesman for Davis said, "It's not clear yet whether a manager's amendment will be offered." But he noted that the White House has not objected to floor consideration despite its reservations about the bill. He said that indicates "substantial progress," adding, "The bill wouldn't have been able to move forward without at least a wink from the administration, and that has just happened. It appears that the administration is comfortable enough with the amount of reform in the bill to let it come to the floor."

The Postal Service has said a rate increase will take effect in early 2006 if the bill is not passed this session. The military pensions and escrow issues have long held up the legislation, which did not go to the floor last year of either chamber despite approval by the House Government Reform Committee and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees. A spokeswoman for Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Collins said negotiations on the legislation are ongoing.

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