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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.

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The bill’s defenders argue that making deep cuts to the postal service’s infrastructure would initiate a death spiral for the USPS, leading fewer and fewer Americans to make use of it and ultimately dooming the business.

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“This is Congress saying you’re not going to have a healthy postal system unless you have first-rate delivery. We’ve got to have timely delivery,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D) of Maryland on Tuesday. “You’ve got to maintain quality service or less and less people will use the postal service.”

Lieberman put it more bluntly: “We don’t allow for shock therapy for the postal service because we don’t think it will work... If you cut service, you may kill the whole thing off.”

The implications of changes to the postal service reach into every American community. It’s 32,000 locations are greater than Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and McDonald's combined. In terms of employment, it trails only Wal-Mart.

“Only the Postal Service – for the price of a stamp – will go that ‘last mile’ to ensure delivery to out-of-the-way addresses – using burros in the Grand Canyon and snow shoes in Alaska,” Lieberman said on the Senate floor earlier this month. “And what federal agency could process some 6.7 million passport applications a year if the Postal Service was forced to stop?”

The House version, sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California, has yet to receive a vote and offers much steeper cuts to postal operations than its Senate cousin. That sets up a potentially grueling showdown between the two chambers should the House move on the measure -- something the Senate legislation's sponsors said they hoped would happen very soon.

"Instead of finding savings to help the Postal Service survive, the Senate postal bill has devolved into a special interest spending binge that would actually make things worse," said Congressman Issa, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in a statement after the vote.

"The Senate's approach is wholly unacceptable," he added.

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