Postal reform bill close to final passage

A few areas of possible contention remain, including the rules for postal rate increases and workers compensation.

Legislation reforming the U.S. Postal Service came "within a quarter of an inch" of passing both chambers of Congress late Friday night and should be finalized in November, a key House negotiator said Tuesday.

House Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., said the House was prepared to vote on a compromise version, and the Senate was ready to approve it by unanimous consent. But some members felt they needed to read the legislation before voting, he said.

"It's not the postal bill I would have liked … but getting your plan and getting it through Congress are two different things," Davis said at a breakfast hosted by The Council for Excellence in Government and The Washington Post. "I think we are conceptually 99.9 percent there at this point. It's a death spiral [for the Postal Service] if you don't make some changes."

The Postal Service opened a million new post office boxes in 2005, but mailing volume declined, Davis said. The service's current business model is based on the economic conditions of the 1970s, he said, and has not been updated to reflect the growth of e-mail and faxes.

Legislation to overhaul the mail service has been in the works for 12 years. Staff members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Government Reform Committee have been considering various options to get the legislation passed with White House approval.

The Senate approved its version of the bill in February while the House passed its measure in July 2005. The House has yet to formally appoint negotiators to work out differences with the Senate, however, meaning that if the bill had passed Friday, it would have done so without first going through the typical conference committee process.

A spokeswoman for the Senate committee, which is chaired by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, did not respond to requests for comment.

Davis said there were still potential hang-ups over the rules for postal rate increases and workers compensation policies.

National Association of Letter Carriers spokesman Drew Von Bergen said various members gave signals they were not going to vote on legislation they had yet to read.

Von Bergen said if the workers compensation provision -- which would require a three-day waiting period before an employee could receive workers compensation as a result of an on-the-job injury -- is removed, his union would support the legislation.

"But it's not quite there yet. We just didn't want to rush into something," Von Bergen said. "This is not the end of this Congress. They're coming back."

Bob Levi, director of government relations for the National Association of Postmasters of the United States, said with the major issues resolved, the legislation is "within an eyelash" of becoming law.

"The White House has decided in favor of the postal community," Levi said. "Everyone wants to get this done, but it's only going to get done if everyone has a vested interest in it."

Levi said Davis should go to House leaders and ask them to appoint conference committee members such as Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and John McHugh, R-N.Y.

Political currents in the lame duck session in November could place the postal reform measure at risk of stalling, Levi said. The support of Waxman, who is the ranking member of Davis' Government Reform Committee, and McHugh, the chief sponsor of the House version of the bill, will be necessary for passage, Levi said.