Mailers decry inaction on postal overhaul measure

Mass mailers hit by consecutive years of price increases from the U.S. Postal Service are bracing for a future without a postal overhaul bill that would modify the agency's rate-making rules and provide customers with more predictable price increases.

With final passage of the overhaul bill likely to be bypassed in the last week of the lame duck, mailers -- who find the Postal Service's rate-making process unreliable -- say they will look at alternatives to sidestep budgeting for increased costs of postage and shipping.

"There will be a greater effort in getting out of the mail because it's not stable," said Jerry Cerasale, vice president of government affairs for the Direct Marketing Association.

Cerasale, whose group accounts for 70 percent of all postage sold in the United States, noted that credit card and catalogue companies trying to reach new customers have increased their presence on the Internet. Mass mailers accounted for $18 billion in revenue for the Postal Service in 2005.

The pending legislation awaiting conference would require the Postal Service to increase its prices annually and streamline the process by creating an independent Postal Regulatory Board to replace the Postal Rate Commission. The bill also says those increases cannot exceed the inflation rate. Currently, the agency does not have a price ceiling, and it considers price increases on an ad hoc basis.

Postal service spokesman Gerry McKiernan called the existing process "strenuous," adding that "we would always prefer a better system than the one we currently have."

But the outlook for a new system is grim. A spokeswoman for Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, a chief negotiator of the bill, said Collins "is not optimistic" about final passage.

The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent in February. The House overwhelmingly approved the sweeping legislation in July 2005, but opposition from labor groups and the White House have kept it from going to conference.

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