Super committee gets mixed messages on USPS

Recommendations range from “please save” the Postal Service to “stay out.”

The congressional super committee is getting conflicting advice on ways to reform the U.S. Postal Service, with some groups begging for help and others warning the commission to remain hands off.

National Association of Letter Carriers President Fredric V. Rolando last week submitted a seven-point plan to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction outlining ways to bring the Postal Service back to firm financial footing. The committee should merge elements of the Obama administration's reform proposal with pending legislation, Rolando wrote.

NALC's recommendations include returning the $6.9 billion Federal Employees Retirement System surplus to USPS; allowing the Postal Service to use a reported Civil Service Retirement System overpayment to cover retiree health obligations; removing a requirement to prefund retiree health benefits; repaying USPS' Treasury debt with money from the agency's retiree health benefits account; investing assets in more diverse options; permitting the Postal Service to pay for health premiums for current retirees out of funds set aside for future annuitants; and preserving six-day delivery.

But House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Republicans, led by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., have warned the deficit reduction commission to stay out of the postal debate. The full committee last week approved a bill sponsored by Issa that would allow USPS to cut a delivery day and adjust labor costs, among other measures. Reform should be left to lawmakers familiar with postal issues, he said.

"These efforts must not be disrupted by short-term half measures that cost billions now and tens of billions in the future without making fundamental reforms," Issa wrote. "This is not a task the Joint Committee has the expertise or the means to accomplish."

The super committee has received a number of other recommendations for postal reform:

President Obama's deficit reduction plan: The proposal, released in September, would allow USPS to cut a delivery day, provide two years of relief from employer contributions to the agency's Federal Employees Retirement System account and restructure obligations to prefund retiree health benefits. The plan also encourages continuing use of buyouts and early retirement incentives. USPS would see $20 billion in relief.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee: Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, who lead the full committee, last week released a letter acknowledging the Postal Service's fiscal crisis and the administration's reform proposal. They did not, however, offer specific recommendations. Instead, the committee is developing comprehensive reform legislation to submit to the deficit reduction commission.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Democrats: In a report submitted last week, lawmakers wrote that the super committee should amend the 2010 Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act to score USPS legislation on a unified budget basis. This would allow the Postal Service's operating expenses and finances to balance out its retirement and health benefits accounts. The report also recommends adoption of administration proposals to refund the FERS overpayment and adjust the agency's retiree health benefits prepayment schedule.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii: In an Oct. 14 letter, Akaka expressed support for several of the administration's reform proposals, including the restructuring of USPS' retiree health prepayment obligation. But moving to five-day delivery could have a negative impact on businesses, he wrote.