Live from Government Affairs Conference: Postal Reform May Still Have a Chance

(Direct Newsline) Washington–A day after two House chiefs of staff declared that postal reform was dead on Capitol Hill until at least 2005, Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) said that on his side of Congress, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) was “excited about taking up postal reform.”

During a session at the DMA’s Government Affairs Conference, Sununu also predicted that the Internet tax moratorium would be extended for at least four years.

If Sununu correctly characterized Collins’s attitude, it means that Congress’s so-called upper chamber could lead the way to reform this year. Collins chairs the Senate postal oversight committee.

Sununu himself senses an opening. “I don’t think we can find [another] time where the need for reform and the leaders of the committee responsible for reform and the groundwork for reform have all come together,” he said. He anticipates that the committee will issue discussion material by the end of the month. “It is the issue for the committee,” he said.

Earlier, during a Wednesday session, both Cory Alexander, chief of staff for House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, and Brian Gaston, who fills the same role for House Republican Whip Roy Blunt of Montana, had indicated that the combination of budget concerns and an election year would prevent postal reform consideration in the House.

As for the Internet tax bill, Sununu anticipated that it would have some sort of provision for states that are currently grandfathered, but that the grandfathering would have limited duration. “My guess is that there will be a shootout on the [Senate] floor, he said. “The opposition will offer an amendment, [such as the] taxation of DSL lines, which will put the tax burden on the wholesale side to hide it from the consumer. It’s important that we get it to the floor with agreement that prevents a filibuster.”

Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of government affairs for the Direct Marketing Association, offered a yes to the question of whether postal reform could be considered this year, provided, he said, that the Senate committee could design a “noncontroversial” bill for consideration by both chambers. “[House] leadership is not quite aware of how far along [Sen. Tom] Carper [D-DE] is in designing a bipartisan, noncontroversial postal reform bill,” with Collins, Cerasale said.

Cerasale added that such a bill would make its way to the Senate floor. If the House could similarly be persuaded that there was a lack of sticking points, it could slip through during the current legislative session.

So why were the two House aides pessimistic about postal reform’s prospects? As Sununu said, the perfect storm of influences hadn’t existed in the past.

Cerasale added another point. “I think [the House aides] have looked at postal reform’s past history and think it will be a controversial bill.”

“But ask me again tomorrow,” he cautioned. “Things could be different.”

During his presentation, Sununu also said that he wants to keep the cost of doing business for direct marketers low. His position includes not imposing additional costs on long-distance retailers. “If we start erecting arbitrary hurdles, such as taxes or regulatory fees, we will send the cost of sending out material up,” he said.

House action on streamlined sales tax reform, which would reduce long-distance marketers’ responsibility for coping with 7,200 tax jurisdictions within the U.S., would likely be held off until the Senate passed its version, he added.