There has been some optimism expressed recently that finally, FINALLY!, Congress could pass a bill addressing the need for comprehensive postal reform. But if it’s going to be a reality before the 114th do-nothing Congress comes to an inglorious end, it only has a short time in which to do it. And it will have to be done by a lame-duck session at that. And lame ducks have a reputation for passing really abhorrent bills. Take for example the 2006 bill that mandated the Postal Service to pay $5.6 billion per year to cover postal retiree’s health benefits over the next 75 years. Lame ducks in Congress did that. And the Postal Service wound up being the one crippled by it.
Should we be optimistic about the lame ducks in Congress passing a postal reform bill? And, if so, what might it look like? And, if not, what might it look like?
First, it should be noted that there weren’t a lot of bipartisan agreements on much of anything during the past 8 years covering the Obama administration. GOP leadership agreed even before Obama took office that there would be obstruction. However, one of the very few areas which drew bipartisan support was in the area of postal reform.
Unfortunately for the Postal Service, eliminating the crippling mandate of 2006 wasn’t among them. But in other areas there have been advances made, moving Congress closer and closer to agreeing on a bill that would reform the Postal Service and put it back in the black.
In the summer of this year the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee marked up and approved the Postal Reform Act (HR 5714). On the surface, that looked like a good thing. And in many ways, it is.
But, from the perspective of letter carriers, there is at least one major sticking point, and a sticking point that has yet to be successfully resolved: the significant reduction of door-to-door delivery. HR 5714 would authorize the Postal Service to convert up to 5.5 million business deliveries from door delivery to centralized (read, cluster boxes) delivery. It also encourages residential customers to follow suit. So far, House Resolution 28, which addresses the door-to-door issue, has 226 co-sponsors. This is encouraging because it shows that door delivery is supported by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
In comparison to HR 5714, Senate Bill 2051 encourages “voluntary” conversion to curbside or centralized delivery to business and residential customers.
Last week a group of House and Senate members may have inadvertently put the brakes on postal reform legislation for this session of Congress. In a letter dated November 17, 2016, over 80 lawmakers voiced their concerns about the current postal reform bill. Their main bone of contention is that the present bill doesn’t go far enough in improving the service needs of the American public. The letter reads in part:
“…the Postal Service’s ability to perform (reliable mail delivery) has substantially declined….it is critical that Congress take action on this topic when we consider comprehensive postal reform.
“For any comprehensive postal reform bill to have a chance of passing this Congress, it needs to truly address the key problem facing customers across the country, which is the need for better service performance (emphasis added).”
Now, this letter doesn’t necessarily mean that postal reform is dead as far as the 114th Congress is concerned. It’s still possible for the House and Senate to forge a compromise bill addressing both the door-to-door issue and the improvement of service issue. But, if anything, it adds more uncertainty to the mix.