Is the Latest Postal Reform Bill Too Much of a Compromise?

By Eric Katz

August 6, 2013

It is often said around Washington that in order to reach true compromise, parties on both sides of the debate must be unhappy.

In that respect, Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., have certainly succeeded in finding middle ground on postal reform. The chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee introduced a proposal to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service last week and -- despite the bipartisan sponsorship -- many are unhappy with their product.

Carper’s counterpart in the House, Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., expressed optimism with parts of the proposal, but said he and the senators “differ on our approach in many areas.”

Now, Carper and Coburn are receiving pointedly negative feedback from postal unions. A letter signed by every major group representing USPS employees -- including the American Postal Workers Union and the National Association of Letter Carriers -- implored Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to reject the bill.

“On behalf of 500,000 employees of the U.S. Postal Service, who live and work in all 50 states, we wish to express our utter dismay with the introduction of S. 1486,” the unions wrote in the letter. “It renews a commitment to the disastrous Bush administration policy to mandate massive prefunding of future retiree health benefits and provides major downsizing measures to pay for it.”

In addition to continuing -- though alleviating -- prefunding requirements, the groups decried the bill’s eventual elimination of Saturday mail delivery, closing of processing plants, reduction of door-to-door delivery and reforms to workers’ compensation statutes. The unions said the Postal Service has shown signs of recovery -- with operational profits so far in fiscal 2013 -- thus rendering the reforms in the Carper-Coburn bill unnecessary.

The unions said they recognize the need for some changes. They support, however, the Postal Service Protection Act, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. That legislation would completely repeal the prefunding requirement and preserve six-day delivery standards. It would also reinstate overnight delivery, which would in turn protect processing plant closures. The bill would attempt to grow revenue by expanding business opportunities at the agency.

Sanders, too, announced his disapproval with the Carper-Coburn plan, calling it “weaker” than the bill that passed the Senate -- but died in the House -- last Congress. Sanders supported that bill, though Coburn and most Republicans -- and a handful of Democrats -- voted against it.

“While we all understand that the Postal Service is experiencing financial problems today and that changes need to be made, providing fewer services and poorer quality is not the way to save the Postal Service,” Sanders said in a statement on the new proposal. “That is why I am strongly opposed to this legislation.”

Thirty Democrats co-sponsored Sanders’ bill, including three members of Carper’s committee.

A committee aide said the Carper-Coburn bill came together very quickly and the leaders’ staffs have not had time to rally support for the legislation. They plan to do so over the August recess, however, and move forward with the bill in September.

The bill’s sponsors have already expressed an openness to altering their proposals.

“This proposal is a rough draft of an agreement subject to change that I hope will move us closer to a solution that will protect taxpayers and ensure the Postal Service can remain economically viable while providing vital services for the American people,” Coburn said in a statement.

While Carper and Coburn hope to recruit members of their parties to endorse the bill, the unions say it is a non-starter.

“This is completely beyond anything appropriate,” said Sally Davidow, a spokeswoman for APWU. “We don’t see this as a starting point.” 

By Eric Katz

August 6, 2013