This story has been updated.
The House late Wednesday blocked a measure to require the U.S. Postal Service to revert back to the delivery standards it maintained before 2012, which the mailing agency said would have cost it $1.5 billion annually.
A committee had unanimously approved an amendment to a spending bill last month to require the Postal Service to deliver mail more quickly, but Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah -- who recently introduced a more comprehensive measure to put USPS on a path toward financial solvency -- used a legislative tactic known as a “point of order” to block the measure. Chaffetz argued the postal provision held no relevancy to an appropriations bill, and in a mostly party-line vote the Republican House majority concurred.
The Postal Service previously reduced the amount of mail it delivered overnight and shifted a substantial amount of mail from a two-day delivery standard to a three-to-five day range. Overall, USPS downgraded its delivery standards for about 28 percent of first-class mail. USPS cited those changes as necessary to enable it to consolidate facilities and rely less heavily on air delivery. The agency shuttered 141 processing facilities in 2012 and 2013, and had begun closing an additional 82 in 2015 before it suddenly decided to cancel those plans last year.
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Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, who introduced the original amendment, condemned the vote.
“This is a setback for restoring improved mail delivery,” Kaptur said. “Postal management’s decision to close 83 regional sorting facilities backfired, causing needless delays in first class mail and magazines, for example, and costing more through unanticipated increases in transportation, gasoline and delivery truck maintenance costs.”
The slower mail delivery and corresponding consolidations have generated controversy and have proved major sticking points in delivering comprehensive reform to the agency. Mailers and lawmakers have complained products have reached consumers more slowly, while unions have bemoaned the massive job cuts and relocations.
The Postal Service has defended the changes, saying the first phase is saving the agency $865 million annually, while the new round of cuts would generate an additional $750 million each year. If signed into law, the provision could actually force the USPS to reopen already closed facilities, as the standards in place before the consolidations would be reinstituted.
Postal management has deplored the effort to bring back the previous delivery standards, saying it would cost the agency $1.5 billion annually and $500 million in one-time costs. Sarah Ninivaggi, a USPS spokeswoman, said the measure was “financially and operationally indefensible.”
“The Postal Service simply cannot afford costly, legislatively mandated inefficiencies that undermine our viability as a self-funding entity,” she said.
Dave Partenheimer, another postal spokesman, said USPS was "grateful" for Chaffetz's efforts, explaining the slowed mail delivery generated savings "we can't afford to lose, and money we can't afford to spend."
The provision was stripped from the spending bill despite the lobbying efforts of the American Postal Workers Union, which said in June it would do everything in its power “to make sure the amendment becomes law.”
Chaffetz’s bill -- which has bipartisan support in the House -- is silent on the mail processing plant consolidations issue, while a Senate measure would delay further reductions in delivery standards and facility closures for two years.