The U.S. Postal Service wants Congress to make it easier to cut costs and change the mail delivery schedule, but proposals unveiled this week could place even more restrictions on when, where and how Americans receive their mail.
Senators spent most of the week debating a measure to overhaul the Postal Service by giving it $11 billion to offer buyouts to hundreds of thousands of employees, to eventually end six-day mail delivery — if it is is deemed financially necessary — and to possibly end delivery of mail to door-side mailboxes in favor of more centralized locations. (We wrote on the full details of the overall bill earlier this week.)
Several senators, no longer able to attach earmarks or other home-state perks to legislation, this week fought hard to protect tiny post offices in rural hamlets, and expressed concern about senior citizens who rely on the mail to deliver prescriptions and paper ballots delivered days before Election Day.
Late Thursday, Senate leaders agreed to a list of at least 38 amendments — but aides said the list likely will be shortened to fewer than 20 in time for votes on the amendments and final passage of the bill next Tuesday.
With the Postal Service hemorrhaging money, postal officials say Congress needs to act quickly.
“The Postal Service urgently requires the enactment of comprehensive legislation to return to profitability and long-term financial stability,” said spokesman Dave Partenheimer. “We will continue to work with Congress and the administration to provide the Postal Service with the speed and flexibility to meet the evolving demands of a changing marketplace.”
But speed and flexibility are lacking from several of the amendments proposed this week. Here’s a look at a few of them:
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.): Don’t touch Maryland’s mail:
The Free State’s senior senator was especially aggressive this week in her attempts to stop the Postal Service from closing post offices and mail-processing facilities in Maryland. She introduced four amendments: One requiring a state governor to approve any closure of a processing facility; another forcing USPS to conduct “a community impact study” in areas where it might close a processing plant; a measure requiring the continued delivery of overnight first-class mail that includes medicine for veterans and seniors and federal benefits checks; and an amendment that would bar the closure of a processing facility in Easton, Md.
“The Post Office is not a business, it is a public utility,” Mikulski insisted in a fiery speech Wednesday. “Will it require subsidy? Yes. Does it require an open checkbook? No. Does it require reform? Yes.”
Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and others: Don’t touch rural post offices
Under this plan, the Postal Service would be barred from closing rural post offices for two years — and could do so only if USPS can assure that seniors and disabled people could continue receiving the same service as before, that local jobs would not suffer with the absence of reliable mail service, and that the next nearest post office is no more than 10 miles away.
“Targeting rural post offices for closure is callous, unnecessary and irresponsible and doesn’t solve the fiscal problems facing the Postal Service, “McCaskill said. “Our post offices are more than just brick and mortar — they’re the lifeblood for towns across our state and a source of good jobs in areas hard-hit by the economic downturn.”
Merkley, a co-sponsor, agreed, saying that plans to close rural post offices is “devastating and economically idiotic.”
Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.): What about vote-by-mail?
Wyden and Feinstein, who represent states with popular vote-by-mail programs, want to stop the Postal Service from closing postal-processing facilities in such states until after this year’s elections. (Postal officials already plan to wait to close processing facilities in vote-by-mail states until after this year’s political and holiday mailing season.)
The Wyden-Feinstein plan also would require local and state election officials to be formally notified of any post office closures and would require USPS to conduct impact studies on how closing post offices would affect voting by mail.
“In Oregon, if the ballots are not delivered b y mail to the county election offices by the deadline on Election Night, they are not counted,” Wyden said this week, “so it’s essential to the conduct of fair elections in my home state that delivery of ballots cast by mail not be delayed.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): Do what House Republicans want
McCain backs a postal reform bill first introduced by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) that would establish a Commission on Postal Reorganization to overhaul postal finances and review sites for potential closure. McCain’s version has a few modifications — but it has no hope of passing the Senate as currently written.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.): Preserve six-day mail delivery
Pretty self-explanatory. But public opinion polls and market research suggest it’s no longer needed or wanted by most mail customers.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.): Switch to five-day delivery
Again, pretty self-explanatory. But Corker also backs permitting USPS to raise stamp prices beyond the rate of inflation and to lay off workers if necessary.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.): Cap postal executive pay
Montana’s junior senator has a novel idea: The nine-member Postal Service Board of Governors currently has two vacancies, so the two vacant seats should be eliminated.
“We need to make sure everyone is tightening their belts,” from the post office to postal headquarters in Washington, Tester said.
His amendments would limit the salaries of the six most-senior USPS executives to a base salary of not more than $200,000 — on a par with Cabinet secretaries. Top USPS bosses currently earn much more.
Tester said cutting executive pay “is the same savings you’d get from closing a processing facility in Helena” — his home state capital.
“To me, the choice is simple: If the Postal Service is out of money, painful cuts have to be made, and they need to be made at the top as much as at the bottom.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.): Egypt, mailboxes and Capitol Hill post offices
Paul nearly derailed the entire process this week by insisting that the bill should include his plan to cut $2 billion in U.S. financial assistance to Egypt.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) balked at the idea, and McCain later agreed that amendments to the postal bill should be “germane” — or related to the issue at hand.
But Paul also has some germane proposals.
Among other amendments, Paul wants to end the Postal Service’s monopoly on mailboxes — essentially letting other firms leave things in them for customers, which is currently illegal. He also wants USPS to use a performance-based pay system for its top executives, to close several post offices in House and Senate office buildings and to end collective bargaining rights for postal workers when their current contracts expire.
Remember — even if the amendments listed above don’t earn up-or-down votes in the Senate, they could come up again when the House debates the issue in the coming weeks. And during an election year when lawmakers hope to prove they’re helping constituents, some semblance of the ideas proposed this week could be revived in the near future.
Which of the amendments do you favor or oppose? Share your thoughts in the poll or comments section below.
Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost
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