House to vote on postal overhaul bill

House leaders plan to move a long-awaited postal overhaul measure to the floor this month or early July despite objections from the administration and mounting opposition from conservatives concerned about its budgetary impact.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert's willingness to put the measure on the floor signals that the administration is optimistic it can reach agreement -- especially on the handling of military pensions -- with the bill's (H.R. 22) sponsors on the major sticking points as the measure moves through the legislative process, proponents say.

"They have remaining concerns about [the bill] but they feel that unless H.R. 22 moves through the House, it may be difficult to address those additional concerns," said Ben Cooper, who tracks legislation for the Printing Industries of America.

The White House and the bill's sponsors spent months negotiating, adding language calling for rate caps and increased financial transparency.

Proponents say the White House thinks the bill has improved enough to allow a floor vote.

The House Government Reform Committee unanimously approved a similar measure last year, but it never came to the floor because of the White House's objections to provisions giving the Postal Service access to money slated for an escrow account and shifting responsibility for the Postal Service's military pensions to the Treasury Department.

This year's bill, also unanimously approved by the panel, does not change the handling of those provisions, but both issues remain under discussion, said a spokesman for Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va.

"We feel confident that the differences can be worked out in the end. We just want to get it out of the House," he said. He noted the White House and Congress agree on the need to avert a looming rate increase, which the Postal Service has said will go into effect if the legislation is not approved this year.

Bill supporters predict it will pass with support from Democrats and most Republicans.

"It's a bipartisan bill; it has 163 co-sponsors. It's well-refined, and it's urgently needed," said a spokeswoman for sponsor Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y.

But the conservative Republican Study Committee, which has yet to take a position on the legislation, and some Budget Committee members might oppose the bill because of its budget implications. A GOP aide said some conservatives share the administration's view on the military pensions and have lambasted the measure for not doing enough to cut down on labor costs. Shifting the military pensions to the Treasury Department would add about $1.5 billion to the federal deficit.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, sent a letter to Hastert criticizing the legislation for giving the Postal Service too much flexibility in pricing and allowing it to compete with the private sector on certain products. Norquist also opposed a provision giving unions a seat on the Postal Service's Board of Governors which he said "give Big Labor undue influence over USPS."

The budgetary impact could pose a larger problem in the Senate, where the legislation might need 60 votes to pass, since it was not included in the budget blueprint. The outlook for the bill in the Senate will become clearer once the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee marks it up, probably later this month.

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