Senate Postal Reform Bill Delayed 'Indefinitely'

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The bipartisan Senate proposal to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service has hit a snag, forcing the bill’s authors to push back the timetable for a vote.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, introduced the bill with ranking member Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in August and has held two hearings on the legislation. But the 2013 Postal Reform Act has drawn significant criticism from committee Democrats, forcing Carper to postpone a markup originally scheduled for Wednesday.

Carper “wants to ensure that his colleagues and stakeholders have additional time needed to address provisions of the bill and make further improvements, which is why the postal markup was postponed,” a committee aide told Government Executive. Despite the setback, Carper remains optimistic the committee can proceed with a markup on the bill “later this month,” the aide said.

A second, Democratic aide involved in negotiations said the bill is suspended “indefinitely,” though the chairman still hopes to move on the bill before Thanksgiving. Democrats have expressed their desire to include more of the language from the bill that passed the Senate in the last session of Congress.

That bill, which was never taken up in the House, hit USPS with fewer cuts to services. The new bill, for example, phases out to-the-door delivery. The proposal would allow the Postal Service to stop offering new employees access to the Federal Employees Retirement System or making contributions to their Thrift Savings Plan accounts.

Coburn, who voted against the old bill in 2012, does not want to see the more generous language reinserted, the aide said, adding Carper and his staff will take the next week or two to determine the best way to move forward with the new proposal.

When the committee leadership introduced the bill, both Carper and Coburn made clear the proposal was a “rough draft” that would “certainly change” as the pair solicited feedback from colleagues and stakeholders.

A spokesman for Coburn reiterated that point to Government Executive Monday.

“Dr. Coburn and Chairman Carper continue to work on producing a major, bipartisan bill that fixes big problems at the Postal Service,” the spokesman said. “Dr. Coburn is committed to getting the bill done right so Congress doesn’t have to revisit the issue again years down the road.”

Democrats who represent rural states, such as Jon Tester of Montana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, have criticized provisions they say would hurt their constituents.

“Congress needs to help USPS address its financial challenges, but we must do so in a commonsense way that protects service standards in rural America and treats postal workers fairly,” Heitkamp said after a hearing on the bill in September.

Tester told The Hill he “absolutely” would need to see changes to the bill in order to support it. Republicans appear to view the proposal more favorably, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has said he looks forward to “supporting the bill in any way that I can.”

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has moved on its own bill, clearing a proposal from Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., without any Democratic support. That bill is awaiting action in the full House.

Democrats have pitched their own plans in place of either the Carper-Coburn or Issa bills, with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., putting forward a worker and service-friendly proposal in the upper chamber and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. -- the oversight committee’s ranking member -- introducing a plan in the House. Postal unions have endorsed Sanders’ bill, and have even warmed up to the 2012 Senate plan, but have vehemently rejected the Carper-Coburn and Issa proposals. 

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