WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate Wednesday passed a strong, bipartisan postal reform bill to preserve the United States Postal Service (USPS) and put it on more solid financial ground for the future. The 21st Century Postal Service Act (S.1789) was passed by a 62-37 vote. The House must now act expeditiously so the two chambers can reconcile their bills and turn around the Postal Service’s daily loss of $23 million and prevent the wholesale closings of postal facilities.
“The Postal Service is an iconic American institution that still delivers 500 million pieces of mail a day and sustains 8 million jobs,” Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., said. “This legislation will change the USPS so it can stay alive throughout the 21st century to serve the people and businesses of this country. We’ve also proved that the Senate can confront a real crisis and work together to fix it…. There were amendments from the right and amendments from the left but the center held.”
Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine, said: “This is an important victory for the U.S. Postal Service, the American economy, and customers who rely on dependable and universal postal service. In recent months, we have seen the Postal Service announce a number of draconian measures including the intent to close hundreds of processing plants and implementing disastrous service standard changes. Our bill takes a far better approach that helps the Postal Service right size its excess capacity, while still maintaining what is one of the most valuable assets to the Postal Service: its ability to deliver mail overnight to many areas.
“Today’s vote is also a win for bipartisanship. Americans are rightly frustrated about what many feel is a dysfunctional Congress. With enormous problems facing our country and Congress having little to show by way of accomplishments, the process we’ve just completed on this bill demonstrates Senators can work together. Today, we see that progress can occur when Republicans and Democrats work together; when Senators from big states and small find common ground. We can achieve important policy for those who sent us here.”
Federal Financial Management (FFM) Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., said: “The financial situation facing the U.S. Postal Service is dire, but it is not hopeless. The time to act is now, and this legislation will provide the Postal Service with much needed flexibility so it can right-size, modernize, and remain competitive for decades to come. Sens. Lieberman, Collins, Brown and I have worked together to address the concerns raised by many of our Senate colleagues in a responsible manner. Our bill ensures that the Postal Service will receive the resources it needs to survive, while addressing legitimate concerns raised by communities affected when postal facilities are closed or consolidated. Our bill asks for shared sacrifice from postal management, postal employees, postal customers and even members of Congress. Make no mistake: these sacrifices are necessary to ensure that the Postal Service can become and remain financially solvent. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House of Representatives to address the challenges facing the Postal Service. It is my hope that they move forward expeditiously with consideration of postal reform legislation. We can solve this problem if we work together and remain committed to preserving this invaluable American institution for generations to come.”
FFM Subcommittee Ranking Member Scott Brown, R-Mass., said: “The passage of this important bill is more proof to the American people that Republicans and Democrats can come together and solve real problems,” “Saving the Postal Service from bankruptcy is an issue that has a major impact on American communities and businesses. Millions of jobs and the flow of commerce depend on the solution we passed today. I hope our colleagues in the House choose to pass a balanced and bipartisan postal reform bill as well, because the Postal Service is running out of time and we cannot afford any further delay.”
The financial condition of the Postal Service has been deteriorating for years but the economic downturn and the near universal use of the internet for communications and commerce have hastened its downward spiral.
To help USPS cut costs and raise revenues, the bill would:
- Give the Postmaster General access to money USPS has overpaid into one of its retirement funds to provide incentives to encourage 100,000 eligible employees to retire. This would help voluntarily “right-size” the workforce to take into account the steep decline in first class mail volume in recent years;
- Reduce the amount of money that USPS has to prefund for retiree health benefits by amortizing the costs over 40 years and calculating those costs more appropriately.
- Retain overnight delivery of first class mail, but limit it in some cases to shorter geographic distances.
- Prevent the Postal Service from going to five-day delivery for the next two years and require it to exhaust all other cost-saving measures first;
- Require USPS to set standards for retail service across the country, consider several alternative options before closing post offices, and provide for increased opportunity for public input;
- Allow USPS to sell non-postal products and services in appropriate cases;
- Allow USPS to ship beer, wine, and distilled spirits.
- Create a Chief Innovation Officer to foster innovation at USPS
- Reform the Federal Employees Compensation Act, the federal workers’ compensation program.
The bill also expands the alternatives USPS must consider before closing a post office and it establishes a Strategic Advisory Commission, to be composed of prominent citizens and charged with developing a new strategic blueprint for the Postal Service.