House leaders with oversight of the U.S. Postal Service introduced bipartisan draft legislation on Wednesday to overhaul the mailing agency, expressing confidence their measure would finally push Congress to pass a bill that has eluded it for nearly 10 years.
The 2016 Postal Service Reform Act, introduced by Reps. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the respective chairman and ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as wells as Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.; Gerry Connolly, D-Va.; and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., largely mirrors a bipartisan Senate bill that has yet to receive any voting action in the upper chamber.
The House bill would require postal retirees electing to receive federal health insurance to enroll in Medicare parts A and B as their primary care provider. The bill would phase out the Postal Service’s share of retirees’ Medicare premiums over four years. Most postal employees enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program would have to select a plan specific to USPS workers.
The Medicare integration would largely solve the issue of prefunding future retirees’ health care, as required by a 2006 law. The issue has been a sticking point in previous attempts at postal reform, as the cash-strapped agency has struggled to make the payments and defaulted on them in recent years. USPS would make actuarial payments toward the remaining liabilities over the next 40 years.
Another long-popular provision -- also included in the Senate bill -- would create postal-specific assumptions about the demographics of the USPS workforce to prevent possible overpayment into the agency’s Federal Employees Retirement System account. If any surplus were detected after the new formula was made, it would be gradually refunded to the agency.
Both the Senate and now the House bill avoided a previously contentious issue of reducing mail delivery to five days each week. At a press conference on Wednesday, Chaffetz said he had “come miles” on the issue, noting the mailing economy is moving toward seven-day delivery and USPS should not be disadvantaged. Postmaster General Megan Brennan has dropped the call for five-day mail delivery from the agency’s list of demands for postal reform.
The bill breaks from the Senate language by calling for USPS to cut its board of directors from 9 Senate-confirmed members to five. The board currently has just one confirmed member. It would also clarify the Postal Regulatory Commission’s authority to levy fines against the Postal Service. The House measure takes a more aggressive approach in converting to-the-door delivery to curbside or clustered drop offs, requiring incremental conversions for businesses. For residential addresses, door-to-door delivery would cease only if 40 percent of the impacted residents sign off.
Also, while the Senate bill would make permanent an emergency, temporary price increase that expired in April, the House measure would cut the price increase roughly in half to about 2 percent or 1 cent per stamp. It would give the PRC until 2018 to review how the pricing structure should be set going forward, a study the regulators are currently undertaking. The bill would compel the PRC to consider factors such as financial stability, customer experience and delivery timelines in making its determinations.
The bill would embrace new forms of revenue, through the creation of a chief innovation officer position and by providing new authority to offer non-postal products. Cummings, who in previous congresses offered his own postal bills to counter measures introduced by then-oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., called those provisions instrumental in earning his support.
The measure “has basically everything I want,” Cummings said. “I am very much satisfied with this bill.”
In a potential victory for workers, non-bargaining, non-supervisory employees would gain appeal rights with the Merit Systems Protection Board under the bill.
Chaffetz said he “worked closely” with Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., who authored the Senate bill, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, in drafting the bill. He called his bill “fairly close to the Senate” counterpart, while predicting the House legislation would move more quickly than the Senate’s and motivate the upper chamber to act. Johnson has intimated he would not move on postal legislation until the House showed progress on its own measure.
The House committee plans to hold the comment period on the discussion draft open for two weeks before formally introducing the bill and subsequently holding a markup. Lawmakers told stakeholders they optimistically hope to push the bill to the House floor before the seven-week recess that begins July 15.
Connolly said the measure was “not a prefect bill,” but an important one to keep the Postal Service solvent in the long term. Lynch noted the four major postal unions, which in the past have lobbied against attempts to reform the Postal Service, would not stand in the way of the House bill.
The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association called the House measure a “marked improvement” over the Senate measure, but would not throw its support behind the measure. NARFE Legislative Director Jessie Klement said the 76,000 postal retirees who have elected not to enroll in Medicare should not be forced to do so. She noted the group appreciated the House bill, unlike the Senate legislation, would automatically enroll that population into Medicare so retirees unaware of the change would not lose their FEHBP coverage entirely.
Brennan, the postmaster general, thanked the lawmakers for introducing the bill but declined to offer her immediate support.
“We will carefully review today’s draft and continue working with our oversight committees in the House and Senate as well as other key stakeholders to pass postal reform legislation that will allow us to continue providing high-quality delivery services to the American people,” Brennan said.
Carper also applauded his House counterparts, calling the bill’s introduction “an important step forward.”
“We must now work quickly to find consensus between the House and Senate proposals,” Carper said. “If we delay any longer and fail to get postal reform enacted this year, the Postal Service’s already dire situation will only get worse.”