Stakeholders backing Senate chief's postal overhaul legislation

Labor and financial provisions in the postal overhaul measure introduced last week by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., are being generally welcomed by a diverse coalition of stakeholders who want some of the language to find its way into the House version as well.

A spokesman for House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., said he will consider elements of the Senate measure and is "currently working with the minority and the administration to hash out some of the final details" before marking up the legislation this spring.

The Senate bill strikes a compromise on a major point of contention: worksharing agreements, which allow the agency to offer discounts to large mailers for presorting mail and other tasks normally done by postal workers.

Unions had feared changes in worksharing agreements, but the new language is a consensus among Collins, Carper, the Postal Service, the American Postal Workers Union and the bulk mailers. Union officials did criticize some of the bill's workers' compensation provisions.

The compromise drops the four-year limitation on discounts for new products and outlines circumstances when mailers can receive discounts that exceed 100 percent of the Postal Service's costs. An amendment to last year's bill, added by panel Democrats and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., over Collins' opposition, would have outlawed all discounts over 100 percent, said Mury Salls, president of the Major Mailers Association. He said the compromise is more equitable.

"Before it was just absolute; this does provide a little bit of a door, when it's warranted," Salls said.

Large mailers applauded another change, included at the suggestion of the White House, that would require the Postal Service to file SEC-like reports. "It's about time," Salls said.

The agency counts 40 percent of its costs as overhead, which is highly unusual for any business, he said. "This will provide a little more scrutiny."

A spokesman for USPS was unable to comment before presstime.

Salls also praised lawmakers for shifting responsibility for the agency's military pensions back to the Treasury despite White House objections.

Congressional aides say the administration could provide more flexibility in giving the postal service access to its escrow account, the other major sticking point between Congress and the White House. But neither side has budged on the pension dispute, which might prompt President Bush to withhold support for the bill as the service considers a rate increase in absence of legislation passing.

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