Battle Over Postal-Service Cuts Looms in September

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., urged comprehensive reform "before it's too late." Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., urged comprehensive reform "before it's too late." Flickr user Third Way Think Tank

The stage is being set this month for another round of argument and angst over the future of the U.S. Postal Service when Congress returns to work in September.

The latest squabble erupted after the USPS, which this summer reported a net loss of $2 billion in the second quarter of 2014, announced plans to cut 15,000 jobs and consolidate 82 mail-processing centers in 2015. The Postal Service has already consolidated 141 mail-processing facilities since 2012.

Last week exactly half the Senate wrote to appropriators urging them to block any more Postal Service cutbacks in legislation to fund the government after Oct. 1, which Congress must enact in September to avoid a shutdown.

On Tuesday, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee responded with a statement saying Congress should instead enact comprehensive postal reforms "before it's too late."

"If my colleagues want to address these concerns for the long-haul, I urge them to join me this September as we continue our efforts to fix the serious, but solvable, financial challenges facing the Postal Service," said Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del.

Carper and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., have been promoting legislation to streamline and modernize the Postal Service and deal with its health care, pension, and other costly issues. But those efforts, including a reform bill that Carper cosponsored with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., have stalled.

Meanwhile, the USPS continues to drown in red ink, despite an increase in revenue in the quarter ending June 30. A big part of the losses stem from a congressional requirement to prepay billions of dollars into a future retiree health care fund.

Last week's letter signed by 50 senators—led by Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; and Jon Tester, D-Mont.—called for a one-year moratorium on further cuts to "give Congress the time it needs to enact the comprehensive postal reforms that are necessary for the Postal Service to function effectively in the future." The senators said the planned cuts in 2015 will affect services in 37 states and harm local communities and economies.

"While a number of reform proposals have been introduced in both the Senate and the House to tackle these problems over the past several years, we have yet to enact legislation," the letter said. "In the absence of congressional compromise, the Postal Service has proposed more sweeping changes to its operations."

The 50 senators requested that language be added to must-pass legislation to fund the government into the next fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The language should block for one year any Postal Service plans to consolidate more mail-processing facilities, the letter said, and should impose a moratorium through fiscal 2015 on any more reductions that would result in slower first-class mail service.

On Tuesday, Carper's frustration spilled out in a written statement.

"If Congress continues to do nothing, we face a future without the valuable services the Postal Service provides. This would be a devastating blow to our economy," Carper warned. But he noted his and Coburn's bill would preserve existing standards, including the 82 mail-processing plants and Saturday mail delivery, "until other reforms have a chance to bear fruit."

"Our bill isn't perfect but it is an important step in the right direction. I hope my colleagues will join our efforts to enhance this plan in order to save the Postal Service before it's too late," Carper said.

(Image via Flickr user Third Way Think Tank)

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