The House passed legislation yesterday that would return to the president and Congress some of the power over the Postal Service they relinquished seven years ago.
The bill, passed 384 to 11, would turn the postmaster general back into a presidential appointee, give Congress a veto over policy changes such as the proposed cancellation of Saturday deliveries, and remove the current ceiling of $980 million a year on the Postal subsidy but require the Postal Service to detail to Congress each year how it plans to spend its money.
Rejected by a 218 to 180 vote was a proposal to allow Congress to veto rate changes, which would have forced members to face up to politically unpopular increases.
The Postal Service was set up seven years ago as a semi-independent agency on the theory that it would be more efficient if run like a private company under its own board of governors separate from politics. The House bill would abolish that independent board.
An amendment preventing the Postal Service from subsidizing parcel post to the detriment of private delivery firms was passed by a 292-to-112 vote. The amendment by Rep. Paul Simon (D-I11) requires that the rates for parcel post recover any direct or indirect cost of it, a step opponents of the amendment said could increase parcel post rates by as much as 65 percent.
Though the White House had agreed not to oppose the bill when it came up for debate in return for a number of changes agreed to by the Post Office Committee sponsors, most of those changes were wiped out by the House.
Part of the problem was that after negotiating the changes, presidential assistant Stuart Eisestat wrote Committee Chairman Robert Nix (D-Pa.) that the White House still had "serious reservations and objections to the bill."
"The president has indicated that he will not commit himself to signing postal legislation until he has had an opportunity to review it in its final form," Nix was told.
The White House wanted the board of governors retained and wanted a much lower subsidy than the committee approved. In response to the White House the committee lowered the subsidy from $1.8 billion a year to $1.7 billion. But Eisenstat, in his letter, said the president wanted subsidy levels of $1 billion rising to $1.3 billion over the three-year life of the bill.
The bill goes to the Senate, where similar legislation is about to be worked on in committee. However, White House chances of holding down the cost are not good, since the subsidy level is about the same as in the House bill.
"Deep down in my heart, I hate to see the president's own party inflict this kind of monstrosity upon him," Rep. John Rousselot (R-Calif.) told the House.
Floor action on the bill was stalled earlier this year when Carter asked Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill not to let it out of the Rules Committee. After changes were made, the White House agreed to let the bill come to the floor.
Reps. James Hanley (D-N.Y.) and Charles H. Wilson (D-Calif.) defended the bill and said the White House does not understand it. Hanely said, "Americans of all kinds are more fed up with mail delivery and the Postal Service now than ever, ever before. This, let it be said is a fact of political life that no responsible elected official can or should ignore."
The House did reject requirements that each class of mail bear all the costs amendments attacking the Postal Service. Rep. Edward Derwinski (R-III.) said "kicking around" the Postal Service would notend the "frustration" members feel toward it.