Senate staves off postal Armageddon with USPS reform bill
Postal bill averts 3,700 post-office closings for at least two years, but fails to address deeper, structural problems in how the postal service manages a vast operation, rivaled only by Wal-Mart in total employment.
In a rare bipartisan vote, the Senate on Wednesday passed a postal reform bill to head off a potential shutdown at the struggling US Postal Service, which now owes $13 billion to the Treasury and is expected to run out of cash as early as this summer.Skip to next paragraph
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The Senate bill aims to ease postal service deficits now approaching $23 million per day by refunding $11 billion in USPS overpayments to a federal retirement system. If Congress fails to act, the postal service could begin closing some 3,700 post offices and as many as 325 mail processing centers beginning May 15.
But the bill’s detractors argue – and its supporters concede – that the legislation does not offer comprehensive solutions for many of the postal service’s long-term challenges, such as a surfeit of facilities and an inability to innovate and find new businesses.
"How to change the postal service to save it is complicated and challenging but together we came up with an answer," said Sen Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut, one of the bill's sponsors, to reporters after the vote.
The Senate bill, sponsored by a group of moderate legislators including Senator Lieberman, Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine, Sen. Tom Carper (D) of Delaware, and Sen. Scott Brown (R) of Massachusetts, passed 62 to 37 with 13 Republicans voting for the measure and four Democrats voting against. Both Democratic members of the West Virginia delegation voted against the measure after Sen. Joe Manchin's amendment to forbid post office closures for two years came up well short of approval during a marathon session in which the Senate voted on more than three dozen amendments.
The legislation aims to cut costs by funding buyouts and early retirement for its employees from the $11 billion refund, a move expected to cut the postal service's nearly 600,000 employees by about 20 percent, for a savings of about $8 billion a year. More cost savings will come through reducing the amount that the postal service contributes to its retiree health program and capping salaries for top postal executives at $199,000, at the level of Cabinet officials.