Is it possible that Congress will enact a bill this year that would eliminate Saturday mail delivery? According to several postal experts, there are two chances for that occurring in 2011: slim and none.
Although a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee approved a bill last week to end Saturday mail delivery, it still needs to advance through the full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform—possibly next month—and then be voted on by the House and Senate.
Gene Del Polito, the president of the trade group Association for Postal Commerce, believes there is zero chance of five-day mail delivery passing through Congress this year. He thinks there’s a 50% chance of it passing in 2012, and a 100% chance of passing in two years.
Tony Conway, executive director for the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, agrees that the chances of five-day delivery passing this year are not good. The best case is next year, he says, worst case would be two years.
Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of government affairs for the Direct Marketing Association, pegs the chances of five-day delivery passing this year as “well below 50%.”
The only way it passes this year, he says, is if the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction includes it in a package, as the President supports. Cerasale believes Congress will pass five-day delivery in 2012 or 2013.
How does the 2012 presidential election fit into this scenario? “Everything is affected by the 2012 elections,” Del Polito says. “Republicans will not want to give Obama a victory on anything.”
Until the 2012 elections are over, Del Polito doesn’t expect any comprehensive postal reform bill to pass. “I just don’t see a Boehner-Pelosi or a Reid-McConnell kumbaya choir anytime soon,” he notes.
Del Polito refers to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
The Senate passed a continuing resolution that extends the Sept. 30, 2011 due date for the Postal Service’s $5.5 billion installment for the prepayment of future retiree health benefits to Nov. 18. Besides providing for further speculation, this extra time allows for Congress and the Obama administration to possibly find a solution for the Postal Service’s financial woes.
Joe Schick, director of postal affairs for printer Quad/Graphics, says five-day delivery would only pass this year through a language change in the annual appropriations bill. “But I don’t think any major legislation will get done this calendar year that would contain the five-day allowance.”
Eliminating Saturday delivery while executing the Network Optimization Initiative—reducing processing plants from 508 to about 200, changes in service standards and mail entry times, adjustments in mail preparation, transportation and other items—would be disruptive, Schick says. “So the best time to implement five-day delivery would be early to mid-2013.”
Hamilton Davison, executive director for the American Catalog Mailers Association, is a bit more optimistic about the chances of five-day delivery passing sooner rather than later.
“Support for five-day seems to be building in Washington, so the likelihood is increasing,” he says. “Congress is starting to realize that action to save the Postal Service is inevitable. The plethora of bills being introduced in the past few weeks is evidence of this.”
Postal experts contacted by Multichannel Merchant all agreed that if five-day delivery becomes law, there would be at least a six-month time period between approval and implementation.
For its part, the Postal Service says it’s developed a comprehensive operations plan for five-day delivery. “We have sought input from the mailing industry and will continue to work closely with mailers to ensure a smooth transition,” says USPS spokesperson David Partenheimer.
What’s more, Partenheimer says, “We intend to have a significant customer information campaign to educate Americans about the move to five-day delivery and the steps they can take to mitigate any effect upon them.”