The fate of postal reform remains mired in uncertainty after once again clearing the oversight committee by a party line vote Wednesday.
The 2013 Postal Reform Act -- introduced by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., -- gained the full support of the Republican majority while failing to garner any Democratic votes.
“I am disappointed the majority brought this bill forward,” committee ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said at the meeting. Cummings implored his colleagues to reject certain “extreme measures” called for in the chairman’s bill.
Committee Democrats -- led by Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., ranking member of the Postal Service subcommittee -- attempted to strike several of the more controversial provisions of Issa’s bill during the markup. Lynch introduced amendments to eliminate the mandate to phase out to-the-door delivery in favor of cluster boxes, and to remove provisions allowing USPS to lay off workers and to reform workers’ compensation statutes for postal employees.
All of Lynch’s amendments were defeated by the Republican majority. Issa defended the cluster boxes plan, which would move away from door-to-door delivery in favor of large units in which each household or living unit has its own secure box. The chairman pointed to potential cost savings -- billions of dollars annually -- and provisions that would allow waivers and exceptions for those especially inconvenienced by the switch. Critics complained the plan would unfairly target urban dwellers; currently, only about one-third of Americans receive their mail from to-the-door delivery, most of whom live in large cities.
Issa also insisted on keeping the changes to the Federal Employees Compensation Act, which would create a separate system specific to USPS employees filing for workers’ compensation. This provision would allow the House to reach a broader agreement with the Senate in conference, Issa said.
The bill’s markup did offer some bipartisan agreement. Democratic lawmakers consistently praised Issa for working with them and including several provisions of Cummings’ bill in the final legislation. And while the two parties could not agree on the final version, they jointly passed several amendments to the bill.
One such amendment -- introduced by Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga. -- would prohibit top executives at the Postal Service from receiving non-cash awards, such as extra paid vacation. Another amendment that won bipartisan support would include community input in determining where and how to implement cluster boxes in neighborhoods that currently receive to-the-door delivery.
Also notable was an amendment Democrats did not offer. Aside from Cummings bill, which he offered as a substitute for Issa’s, the minority party did not attempt to strip out Issa’s proposal to move to a five-day mail delivery schedule. The plan, originally pitched by the Postal Service and panned by House Democrats, would maintain Saturday delivery for packages.
Still, the minority party expressed concern the overall bill did not do enough to protect USPS employees.
“I have no problem cutting where we must and when we must,” said Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill. “But I can tell you if you cut, cut, cut, you are going to get blood, blood, blood. And someone is going to end up bleeding.”
Postal unions expressed similar apprehensions.
“If it is enacted, this bill will lead to the demise of the Postal Service,” said American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey. “I call upon all APWU members to contact their U.S. representatives and urge them to vote ‘no’ when the bill is brought before the full House.”
Frederic Ronaldo, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said Congress should focus on fixing onerous requirements to prefund future retiree health benefits -- something Issa’s bill attempts to alleviate through amortization, but not eliminate altogether.
“Lawmakers should fix the problems they created, not make counterproductive reductions in service to America’s businesses and residents,” Ronaldo said in a statement.
Committee Republicans passed a postal reform bill in the last Congress, also along party lines, but the measure was never taken up on the full House floor. That legislation, however, included far fewer provisions put forward by Democrats.
Both parties committed to continuing to find common ground in the bill as it moves forward. The Senate -- which passed reform legislation with bipartisan support in the last Congress -- will likely move on its own bill shortly.
“I remain committed to introducing a bipartisan postal reform bill in the Senate as soon as possible,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., Issa’s counterpart in the upper chamber. Carper has shown some flexibility where House Democrats have not, having expressed openness to moving to both five-day mail delivery and cluster boxes.