House will put off postal reform debate until the fall, Hill source says

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The House will not debate its postal reform bill before Congress leaves for August recess, a source on Capitol Hill says.

House leadership’s decision to postpone the debate comes despite objections from the bill’s architects and pressure from U.S. Postal Service officials and regulators.

Many believed the bill would come up between the July 4 holiday and August recess. Now, with debate tabled until after August, the legislation is unlikely to pass before the lame duck session following the November elections. According to The Hill, the House will be in session only seven weeks before Nov. 6, when the post-election session will begin. Then, it likely will have to juggle a long list of other outstanding business, including appropriations and a farm bill.

A source on the Hill confirmed that House leadership decided not to debate the bill before August recess, over the objections of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., both architects of the House bill. Other sources with knowledge of postal reform confirmed that the bill would not be debated prior to Aug. 6.

The House measure takes a more austere approach than the postal reform bill the Senate passed in the spring. The House legislation would reduce postal delivery from six to five days a week, transfer about $11 billion in surplus retirement contributions into the Postal Service’s coffers, decrease the agency’s contribution to employees’ health and life insurance premiums, and restructure the payments USPS is required to make annually to prefund retirees’ health benefits. It also would establish a panel similar to the Defense Department’s Base Closure and Realignment Commission to make decisions about closings and finances.

The Senate bill, which passed by a bipartisan vote of 62-37, allows USPS to offer buyout and early retirement incentives to 100,000 employees, switches to five-day delivery only after giving officials two years to come up with cost-savings alternatives, and restructures the congressional mandate that the agency prefund its retirement health benefits.

The House bill, passed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee earlier this year, does not eliminate the prefunding requirement and includes bigger cuts and more postal facility consolidations than the Senate proposal.

USPS has a $5.5 billion retiree health benefit prepayment from fiscal 2011 due Aug. 1, but there is no statutory penalty for not meeting that deadline, according to Issa spokesman Ali Ahmad. The House bill would require USPS to pay $1 billion of its fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2012 prepayment obligations and make up the remainder in fiscal 2015 and 2016.

Ahmad said the House bill has the support needed to pass when it comes up for debate, and it focuses on the long-term solvency of the Postal Service, meaning deadlines for payments would have no immediate effect on reforms included in the House bill.

Senate leaders have repeatedly urged the House to act on the measure. Earlier this summer, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., an architect of the Senate bill, created a Facebook page outlining the House’s failure to act on comprehensive postal reform.

“The longer the House delays action, the more consumers and businesses become uncertain about the future of the Postal Service,” Carper said in a statement earlier this summer. “To protect a mailing industry that employs over 8 million people and generates almost $1 trillion in economic activity each year, we need congressional action.”

Union leaders, the Postal Regulatory Commission and the Postal Service itself also have urged the House to act soon so that Congress can pass comprehensive postal reform.

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