Republicans, White House Finally Agree on Something: Postal Reform

Lauren Victoria Burke/AP

A key proponent of overhauling the U.S. Postal Service on Tuesday vowed to introduce a new reform bill in the coming weeks, promising to work more closely with the White House in hopes of encouraging more bipartisan support.

That support, however, remains far from guaranteed, detractors made clear during a committee hearing.

Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, who chairs the subcommittee tasked with USPS oversight, repeatedly pointed to overlap between a USPS reform bill they introduced last year and proposals put forward in the White House’s fiscal 2015 budget. The Republican bill  passed through committee without any Democratic support, and has yet to receive a vote on the House floor, but Issa voiced optimism during the hearing for a renewed effort.

Brian Deese, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, promised to work with the committee to iron out unresolved gaps between the two outlines.

One such disagreement revolves around the issue of curbside or cluster delivery. Issa and committee Republicans support eliminating all to-the-door delivery, requiring mail recipients to instead go to their curb or to a large unit in which each household would have its own secure box to retrieve items. Deese said the Obama administration supports the switch for businesses and future addresses, but expressed concern about “disrupt[ing] current delivery.”

He pledged, however, to take Issa’s suggestions back to OMB and the White House, and to issue comments the committee will consider when it marks up the new bill in the coming weeks. Deese also voiced apprehension over a measure in the committee’s existing bill that would create certain preconditions between USPS and postal unions when negotiating collective bargaining agreements.

Despite the differences, the two sides found agreement on many key issues, such as not closing post offices, growing revenue sources through offering more governmental services at post offices, some degree of prefunding for retirees’ health care, eliminating Saturday mail delivery and using attrition -- rather than reductions in force -- to decrease the size of the workforce as necessary. Issa said his intention is to “embrace the entire White House proposal” when drafting his new bill.

The committee chairman implored Deese and the administration to rally Democratic support for the forthcoming legislation. All the minority party committee members made clear their opposition to many of the cuts put forward by both the White House and their Republican colleagues. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., for example, noted he has 210 co-sponsors on a measure that would require the Postal Service to maintain six-day mail delivery.

“Good luck in trying to persuade Democrats into five day,” Connolly told Deese.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., ranking member of the postal subcommittee, said White House pressure would not convince him to change his vote without significant modifications to the bill. He took exception to several Republican arguments used to support Postal Service financial burdens such as the need for prefunding retiree health benefits and the overfunding of the USPS Federal Employees Retirement System account, saying his colleagues were using facts selectively.

Postal unions remain vehemently opposed to the House bill, pointing to USPS’ recently improved finances and arguing further cuts would undo that progress.

Even if -- by working with the Obama administration -- Issa is able to shepherd a bill through his committee and the full House, postal reform could run into another roadblock in the Senate. The upper chamber’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has already cleared its own USPS overhaul legislation, which boasts significant bipartisan agreement. That bill includes many stark differences with Obama’s proposal and the House’s measures; most notably, it would largely eliminate the need to prefund retirees’ health care by making Medicare their primary provider.

Deese said OMB would have to further examine the “whole government impact” of such a change.

The House will go on recess for the next two weeks beginning April 14, after which Issa will schedule a markup for his new bill. 

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