There May Finally Be a Breakthrough in the Long Fight for Postal Reform

Alex Washburn / AP file photo

The four major unions representing U.S. Postal Service employees have all thrown their support behind a renewed effort to overhaul the agency, providing what supporters are calling a “watershed event” in the drawn-out battle for reform.

Lawmakers expressed broad bipartisan support for the 2017 Postal Reform Act at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Tuesday, saying the time has long since passed for Congress to act on USPS’ behalf. Republicans on the committee and witnesses at the hearing said reform is urgent, arguing that doing nothing would result in a taxpayer-funded bailout of the mailing agency.

Lawmakers have struggled in each of the last several sessions of Congress to bring together the array of different interests in USPS affairs, but appeared to reach a breakthrough with their latest efforts. Unlike previous attempts at postal reform, the National Association of Letter Carriers, the American Postal Workers Union, the National Rural Letter Carriers Association and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union all threw their support behind the bill. Art Sackler, head of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service -- a group representing dozens of private sector businesses in mailing and other industries -- also announced his association’s full backing. Postmaster General Megan Brennan said her agency supported the bill as well.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the bill’s author and the oversight committee’s chairman, worked on getting another powerful ally on board Tuesday, pitching postal reform during his 30-minute meeting with President Trump at the White House.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who has become a de facto postal point man as chairman of the oversight committee’s government operations panel, said at the hearing, “I have learned more about postal reform than I ever cared to know.” He said after the hearing he expected the committee to mark up the bill in the next 30 to 45 days. The committee unanimously approved a largely similar bill in the last session of Congress, but it never received a vote on the floor. Lawmakers said Tuesday discussions continued until the 11th hour, but ultimately they ran out of time.

The unanimous backing from labor this time around provides a “watershed event” that “changes the outlook” for reform, Meadows said. He added that he expected some “fine tuning” of the bill in the coming weeks.

Meadows’ enthusiasm was shared throughout the committee.

“I have not seen unions work so hard anywhere to try to come up with solutions,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., another cosponsor of the bill. “And I thank you.” 

The bill would not give the Postal Service everything on its wish list, with Brennan noting the agency would have preferred a larger price increase for its products. She accepted the compromise, she said, as it would enable USPS to realize $26 billion in combined cost reductions and new revenue over five years.

Robert Taub, chairman on the Postal Regulatory Commission, said the Postal Service has already suffered from congressional inaction as it postpones investments in capital projects, and warned the situation will worsen rapidly without intervention.

“There will be some hell to pay if there isn’t change,” Taub said. 

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