House committee shoots down postal reform bill

(Direct Newsline) The House Government Affairs Committee decisively defeated the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, effectively scuttling the prospect of legislative reform of the U.S. Postal Service for at least the next two years.

The bill (HR 4970), developed by Reps. John McHugh (R-NY), Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Danny Davis (D-IL), was defeated in committee by a vote of 20 to 6, according to a committee staffer.

“It’s dead, gone, kiss it goodbye,” says Gene Del Polito, president of the Association for Postal Commerce. “The only thing that can save it now would be a presidential commission because the Bush administration won’t want to be caught holding the bag for the Postal Service’s unfunded liabilities like retirement costs.”

“What took a lot of us by surprise,” says Neal Denton, executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, “was the huge amount of support that United Parcel Service had in defeating this bill.” UPS reportedly lobbied heavily for this bill’s defeat.

In fact, last week the Direct Marketing Association accused UPS of marshalling its “well financed lobbying muscle to deny the bill a House floor vote. …UPS’s reported efforts to thwart postal reform raise grave concerns about the future of postal reform and the apparent lack of representation given to the 9 million Americans who count on an effective postal service for their jobs,” DMA president H. Robert Wientzen said in a statement.

Denton notes that any postal reform bill will have to accommodate the interests of UPS. “If it doesn’t, the vitality of the national delivery system could be jeopardized,” he says.

Bob McLean, executive director of the Mailers Council, iseven more pessimistic. “Dan Burton has to retire after six years as chairman of the House Government Reform Committee,” he says, “and the new chairman probably won’t be in any hurry to take on anything as complex as postal reform.”

USPS officials were unavailable for comment at deadline.

The defeated bill called for giving the USPS some flexibility in pricing its products and services. It would also cap certain rates, establish revenue targets tied to the Consumer Price Index and develop cost saving incentives for the Postal Service. The USPS expects to end the current fiscal year more than $1 billion in the red.

The measure would also allow the USPS to establish the rates for products and services that compete with private business. And it would permit the USPS to offer new and experimental services on a limited basis without seeking the backing of the Postal Rate Commission (PRC) renamed the Postal Regulatory Commission. At the same time it would give a renamed PRC additional authority over certain aspects of the Postal Service’s operations.

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