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A chance for Congress to acknowledge its role in postal crisis

Carper, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on federal services, said he is planning legislation that "will remove the obstacles that prevent postal management from cutting costs while dealing once and for all with the pension and retiree health issues we've spent so much time discussing recently."

One big issue is the $75 billion in overpayments that the Postal Service inspector general says the agency had made to the CSRS since 1972. That's going to be a very hard knot for Congress to untie.

Several speakers agreed that pre-funding of postal retiree health benefits, a practice not required of any other agency or used in private industry, is responsible for much of the Postal Service's dire straits. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said the requirement, about $5.5 billion a year (although Congress deferred $4 billion of the 2009 payment), makes the government "look very hypocritical."

Now, almost everyone seems to agree that the congressionally imposed requirement was a big mistake.

"The fact remains, this decision by Congress, not the recession and not the impact of the Internet, is primarily responsible for the financial crisis faced by the Postal Service in recent years," Fredic V. Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said during the hearing.

"The inescapable fact is that if not for these payments, the USPS would have been profitable in three of the past four years, despite the deepest downturn since the Great Depression."

Carper closed his statement by urging everyone, "even members of the House and Senate," to put aside "the biases and political battles . . . that have prevented us from making progress on the pension and retiree health issues so far."

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