David Goldman/AP file photo

House Committee Clears Postal Reform Bill, Claims 'Big Day'

Lawmakers optimistic that near unanimous backing will finally allow bill to reach the president's desk.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

That was the most common refrain uttered by members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee as they unanimously approved bipartisan legislation to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service on Thursday. Lawmakers struck a delicate balance that finally, after years of false starts and failed bills, earned the support of Democrats, Republicans, all the major unions, private sector businesses in the mailing industry and the Postal Service itself.

The compromise was so carefully sewn together that committee members were imploring each other not to introduce any amendments, lest they upend the entire thing. “The whole ship could tip over,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.

While the oversight committee passed a similar bill in the last Congress that failed to gain traction on the House floor, lawmakers were filled with a renewed sense of optimism.

“This is a big day,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the committee’s chairman and author of the bill. “We’ve been working on a postal reform bill for quite a long time.”

Cummings, the ranking member, praised his Republican counterpart for keeping his word to once again take up the bill after time ran out last Congress.

The House bill would require postal retirees electing to receive federal health insurance to enroll in Medicare parts A and B as their primary care provider. The bill would phase out the Postal Service’s share of retirees’ Medicare premiums over four years. Most postal employees enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program would have to select a plan specific to USPS workers.

The Medicare integration would largely solve the issue of prefunding future retirees’ health care, as required by a 2006 law. The issue has been a sticking point in previous attempts at postal reform, as the cash-strapped agency has struggled to make the payments and defaulted on them in recent years. USPS would make actuarial payments toward the remaining liabilities over the next 40 years.

Another long-popular provision would create postal-specific assumptions about the demographics of the USPS workforce to prevent possible overpayment into the agency’s Federal Employees Retirement System account. If any surplus were detected after the new formula was established, it would be gradually refunded to the agency.

The bill calls for USPS to cut its board of directors from nine Senate-confirmed members to five. The board currently has no confirmed members. It would also clarify the Postal Regulatory Commission’s authority to levy fines against the Postal Service. It would give the PRC until 2018 to review how the pricing structure should be set going forward, a study the regulators are currently undertaking. The measure would compel the PRC to consider factors such as financial stability, customer experience and delivery timelines in making its determinations.

The legislation attempts to convert to-the-door delivery to curbside or clustered drop offs, requiring incremental conversions for businesses. For residential addresses, door-to-door delivery would cease only if 40 percent of the impacted residents sign off. As a new provision, new home addresses can still receive door delivery if their neighbors already do. In a potential victory for workers, non-bargaining, non-supervisory employees would gain appeal rights with the Merit Systems Protection Board under the bill.