The Vote That Could Lead to Congress Finally Passing Postal Reform

Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., (left) and Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, are the leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which approved the bipartisan reforms. Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., (left) and Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, are the leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which approved the bipartisan reforms. Lauren Victoria Burke/AP

A House committee on Tuesday passed a measure to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service, giving the legislation bipartisan support that could lead the lower chamber to pass its first significant USPS reform in 10 years.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee unanimously approved the 2016 Postal Service Reform Act, which largely mirrors a Senate measure that has yet to receive any voting action in the upper chamber. The measure was 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 well as Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.; Gerry Connolly, D-Va.; and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass.

The panel’s unanimous backing boosts the chances of a warm reception on the House floor, where several previous iterations of postal reform approved by the same committee never even received a vote. In previous sessions of Congress, however, the oversight panel approved postal legislation along party lines, with Democrats holding out for their support for alternative measures friendlier to postal employees and customers looking to preserve services.

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Connolly said the bipartisan, compromise bill was akin to a pious act, comparing the markup of the legislation to the Catholic church unveiling a new pope. To the opponents of the measure, Connolly said the status quo would lead to outcomes “far worse than what is in this bill.”

Chaffetz noted his own evolution on the postal issues, and said the more than one year the committee spent negotiating the bill led to “some give and take on both sides of the aisle.” He encouraged committee members to approve the bill so the Congressional Budget Office could determine the potential costs.

Cummings said the legislation was not perfect, but took the long-gridlocked Congress to a “higher ground.”

“Delay in postal reform is simply not an option,” Cummings said.

The measure is not out of the woods yet, as groups representing a variety of interests have voiced their opposition. Large-scale USPS users such as the Alliance of Non-Profit Mailers, consumer advocates such as the American Consumer Institute, conservative groups like the Taxpayers Protection Alliance and federal workforce advocates such as the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association have all come out against the measure. The groups cited issues such as raising postal rates above that of inflation and the requirement postal retirees enroll in Medicare in explaining their opposition.

Some committee members also voiced reservations with the bill, and Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., a 30-year USPS employee, introduced but quickly withdrew an amendment that would leave the option open to the 76,000 postal retirees who wish to keep their current non-Medicare health insurance. Lawrence said she will continue to push the issue as the measure is considered by the full House.

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.

A separate bill approved by the committee Tuesday initially introduced by Lynch would require the Treasury Department to invest at least 25 percent of the money currently in the retiree health benefits account more aggressively, in a plan similar to the Thrift Savings Plans lifecycle fund.

Another long-popular provision in the larger reform measure -- 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 implemented, it would be gradually refunded to the agency.

The bill breaks from the Senate language by calling for USPS to cut its board of directors from nine 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.

Chaffetz said when he introduced the draft legislation in June that 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. Chaffetz 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.

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