HOUSE PASSES POSTAL REFORM BILL
NEW YORK, July 27, 2005--Last night, the House passed HR 22, its version of a postal reform bill. The vote was an overwhelming 410-22.
The House had earlier passed a "rule" for the bill that permitted just a few amendments, all of which were rejected.
One such amendment would have stricken the bill's requirement that one member of the USPS board be approved by the postal unions. Its supporters argued that giving labor one seat would give labor "undue influence" over postal activities. The board consists of nine members appointed by the President (with the advice and consent of the Senate) plus the postmaster general and the deputy postmaster general. That's one out of eleven.
Opponents of the amendment pointed out that many U.S. corporations follow this structure. No wonder it was defeated.
Another proposed amendment seemingly came out of the blue. It would have permitted 20 postmasters around the country to experiment with contracting out-mail delivery without regard to the postal monopoly, prohibitions on mailbox use and, apparently, all other laws. Its opponents pointed out the possible ramifications of an "all law exemption." It too was defeated.
The third amendment was the most serious. One will recall that, over strong administration opposition, congressional leaders in both parties are (so far) insisting on doing the right thing with respect to the Postal Service's overpayment into the civil service retirement fund (and the resulting escrow payment) and with respect to shifting back to the treasury the retirement costs associated with time spent in the military. The administration and some budget hawks on the Hill don't like that these corrective measures, which, if passed, will eliminate the pending rate case and the rate increase scheduled for next year, will "score" as an increase in the deficit. The number being tossed around this week was $6 billion over the next 10 years. The amendment would have required the USPS to spend the escrowed funds and future, similar amounts to pay down the unfunded liability associated with the future health costs of retirees. It was defeated by voice vote and, interestingly, no one asked for a recorded vote, as they had on the other, much less important amendments. There must be some political reason why it was deemed desirable not to force representatives to be on the record as opposing the administration's efforts to put these costs on rate payers or as supporting a postal rate increase.
All of these amendments were supported by floor statements from a few Republicans and strongly opposed by the committee leadership of both parties. It was actually a pretty impressive display of bi-partisanship. In fact, Congressman Tom Davis, the Republican chairman of the committee that has worked for years to get to this point, and the former Chairman John McHugh, were more emotional and emphatic in opposing amendments offered by party members than were the Democrats that joined them.
The next step is up to the Senate, where the rules can make it rather easy for even one Senator to slow down legislation and for 41 to stop it. Thus far, the Senate has been as insistent as the House on the financial issues, but the administration is openly threatening a veto (or, as stated in an administration "statement of principle" discussed tonight, "the President's senior advisors will recommend that he veto the bill"). It remains to be seen whether the Senate will stick to its guns. The Senate has yet to schedule floor time for its version of a reform bill. Assuming a bill passes the Senate, a House/Senate conference would be the next step, followed by a bill that will go back to both houses for passage. Then to the President. We're one step closer, but there are still two more big steps to go.
Steve Ennen, Director of Communications
American Business Media
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