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Senate finds bipartisan postal bill where House did not

Two top Senators last week introduced a bipartisan bill to overhaul the ailing U.S. Postal Service, finding accord where House Democrats and Republicans failed to reach an agreement over the same issue.

The Senate legislation, proposed by Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), changes the agency’s payments toward retirement benefits and allows for a phasing out of both Saturday and to-the-door mail delivery if those moves are necessary to make ends meet.

“The time to act is now,” Carper said. “It is my hope that Congress and the Obama Administration can come together to enhance this plan in order to save the Postal Service before it’s too late.”

Coburn released a one-sentence statement stressing that the reform measure is a work in progress. “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,” he said.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) introduced a Postal Service plan last week that passed through committee without any support from Democrats. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the panel’s ranking member, said in a statement that the measure would “weaken the Postal Service and negatively impact service to all Americans.”

(Joe Raedle - Getty Images) (Joe Raedle – Getty Images)

Issa’s bill contained several provisions similar to those in the Senate legislation, such as allowing Saturday and to-the-door delivery to be phased out. House Democrats opposed the cuts in services.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe already moved this year without Congressional approval to eliminate Saturday delivery, but he withdrew that plan in April under pressure from lawmakers and labor groups. The switch to five-day mail delivery seems to be a matter of time at this point, as lawmakers from both parties have embraced the concept.

Beyond delivery issues, the Senate bill would restructure a 2006 Congressional mandate that requires the Postal Service to pre-fund retiree benefits.

Labor groups such as the National Association of Letter Carriers have called for an end to the controversial pre-funding obligation.

In a May teleconference with reporters, Donahoe said ending the controversial requirement would be “single biggest change that would have the least negative impact” among possible reforms for the Postal Service.

The agency has struggled financially in recent years for a variety of reasons, including the pre-funding requirement and a decline in mail volume. It posted a second-quarter loss of $1.9 billion in May.

Carper said in a statement last week that the Postal Service is on the verge of collapse.

“If it were to shut down, the impact on our economy would be devastating,” Carper said. “Although the situation is dire, it isn’t hopeless. With the right tools and quick action from Congress, the Postal Service can reform, right-size and modernize.”

To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed, friend his Facebook page or e-mail josh.hicks@washpost.comFor more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics. E-mail with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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