House panel hones in on postal service reform

House panel hones in on postal service reform
© Greg Nash

One of Congress’s most contentious committees is pushing toward a rare bipartisan victory: reforming the United States Postal Service.

Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee praised each other during a Tuesday hearing for closing in on a bill to streamline USPS services and salvage its debt-riddled employee benefit plans.

It’s a remarkable shift in tone for a panel that erupted in shouting over Russian hacking last week during a routine meeting.

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The USPS lost a net $5.3 billion in fiscal 2016, it’s tenth straight year of losses, and faces $120 billion in unfunded liabilities, according to federal data. That includes a $21.3 billion budget shortfall.

The Postal Service Reform Act, introduced last week by committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzCurtis wins GOP primary for House seat vacated by Jason Chaffetz Chaffetz named Harvard Institute of Politics fellow Fox's Chaffetz: Rosenstein has 'absolutely zero credibility' on going after leakers MORE (R-Utah) and ranking Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), would shift USPS employee healthcare coverage to pre-existing federal programs. It would also boost postal rates, centralize mail delivery, host some government services at post offices, revamp USPS’s board of governors and end state and federal political committees’ free-postage benefit.

“In an era of partisan politics, this bill represents a true bipartisan compromise,” said Chaffetz, who promised moments after President Trump’s inauguration to continue investigating Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSpecial counsel probing if Trump tried to hide purpose of Russian meeting: report Ten notable departures from Team Trump Is Trump responsible for violent rallies? Law says probably not MORE.

Cummings said the bill should be considered by the full House “as soon as possible,” and urged support for it.

“I know there are people in this audience who said, ‘I wished for this, I wished for that,’” said Cummings. “Just wish that the bill goes through.”

Lawmakers from both parties say that the bill could protect USPS from a future government bailout down the road. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), said USPS could need up to $150 billion in taxpayer funds without major reforms, according to his calculations.

“It’s not hard to understand that the fund is going to run out of money,” added Lori Rectanus, director of physical infrastructure issues for the Government Accountability Office. “We’re talking about a taxpayer bailout, we’re talking about reducing paid benefits.”

The bill has broad bipartisan support from lawmakers, and Fredric Rolando — president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said key postal worker unions back also back it.

But a coalition of free market groups announced their opposition Monday, claiming it “misses the mark and may actually exacerbate the issues facing USPS.”

The groups — including Americans for Tax Reform, Freedom Works and Taxpayers for Common Sense — say they oppose the power the bill gives the USPS to raise postage rates and doesn’t think the governance changes go far enough.

The coalition also called the ability to access other government services at post offices “a distraction.”

“Most of the provisions in the bill are simply reforms for the sake of reforms, having no real impact on the status quo,” wrote the coalition.