Lawmakers move GOP postal reform bill forward

Legislation sponsored by House oversight committee chairman would cut delivery and reduce USPS’ labor costs.

Republican-backed legislation to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service on Wednesday gained approval of a House subcommittee.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, would allow USPS to drop a delivery day and adjust labor costs. Specifically, it would mandate parity between health and life insurance premium percentages paid by postal employees and other federal workers, ensure that total compensation at USPS is comparable to the private sector, and require arbitrators to consider the agency's finances during labor negotiations. The bill also would modify contracting policies and create two oversight bodies to manage changes at USPS, one of which could renegotiate or modify union contracts.

Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., who chairs the House Oversight subcommittee responsible for postal issues, on Wednesday introduced a substitute amendment to the bill that also would cut back door-to-door delivery and reduce the postal workforce starting with retirement-eligible employees before laying off other staff. The amendment passed along party lines, 8-5.

During the markup, Democrats accused Issa of failing to cooperate with them to create a bipartisan bill. They argued that the Postal Service's burden to prefund its retiree health benefits, which Issa's legislation does not change, is a primary driver of the agency's financial crisis. The GOP bill threatens jobs and collective bargaining protections, they said.

Amendments offered to maintain six-day delivery, preserve workers' compensation benefits, and reverse a reported overpayment to USPS' Federal Employees Retirement System and Civil Service Retirement System funds did not pass. Republicans contended that the Postal Service has not overpaid its retirement accounts and does not require a refund.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who also has sponsored postal legislation, said Issa's bill would not fix USPS' financial predicament.

"Instead of putting in place the reforms the Postal Service needs to prevent such a devastating collapse from happening, this bill would abdicate responsibility for cleaning up what would be a colossal financial disaster both for the Postal Service and the broader economy to a newly created government entity," he said. "This is unacceptable."

There are a number of other postal reform bills in play. House lawmakers earlier this month introduced legislation that would extend by 90 days the agency's deadline to make its retiree health fund contribution. The continuing resolution currently under consideration would give the agency only until Nov. 18. Other proposals in the House and Senate would alter employee benefits, workforce structure and delivery day frequency, among other measures.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., on Wednesday introduced a bill that would refund a reported $6.9 billion FERS overpayment, offer early retirement and voluntary separation incentives, adjust retiree benefits prepayment requirements, and preserve employee protections set out in collective bargaining agreements. Lawmakers touted the legislation as more worker-friendly than Issa's bill.