Updated and corrected 9/20/2011 4:57 p.m. ET
House Democrats unveiled legislation Monday that would give Congress and the U.S. Postal Service 90 extra days to sort out its finances and make an annual payment totaling billions of dollars to the federal government to fund health-care and retirement costs.
With USPS teetering on the brink of financial insolvency, supporters believe the three-month extension is enough time for lawmakers to sort out what it can do to help the mail agency, which is suffering from plummeting mail volume and burgeoning labor costs.
Several of the bill’s cosponsors — Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Norman Dicks (D-Wash.), Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) and Danny Davis (D-Ill.) — voted for the 2006 bill that requires the Postal Service to pay about $5 billion annually to prefund the future retirements of postal workers. The bill was a last-minute House-Senate compromise passed shortly before lawmakers left for a holiday recess, and ever since, postal officials have blamed it for sapping USPS of much-needed money.
On Monday, Lynch said the 2006 Postal Accountability Enhancement Act “places extremely burdensome pre-funded health care requirements on the USPS that no other agency or organization must meet. This measure will ensure that the Postal Service and Congress have additional time to work together on comprehensive legislation to improve the Postal Service’s long-term viability.”
Temporarily suspending the payments would not affect health-care costs provided to postal workers or retirees or affect the daily delivery of mail, the Democrats said.
Support for the measure remains uncertain. Though the White House requested the three-month extension last week as it prepares a financial rescue package for USPS, other lawmakers of both parties working on postal affairs haven’t signaled whether they like the idea of giving themselves three more months to work on the issue.
After all, Congress has known of the Postal Service’s money woes for more than three years and has so far done nothing to permanently address the shortfalls.
Previous versions of this story stated that Lynch and his colleagues cosponsored the 2006 postal reform bill. They instead sponsored an earlier piece of postal reform legislation that was folded into the final version.
Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost