(Senate - May 23, 2013)

Text available as:

Formatting necessary for an accurate reading of this text may be shown by tags (e.g., <DELETED> or <BOLD>) or may be missing from this TXT display. For complete and accurate display of this text, see the PDF.


[Pages S3830-S3831]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                             POSTAL REFORM

  Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, this year, as I do every year, I have met 
with many Vermonters who have come up to me to express their views 
about the future of the U.S. Postal Service. But this year, these 
meetings have taken a different tone. Today, rather than asking me how 
the Senate can make a durable and effective institution even stronger, 
Vermonters ask me how the Senate can stave off the impending default of 
the Postal Service. I hear these questions from businesses, from 
private citizens, and from postal employees. I am stopped by Vermonters 
in the grocery store or at the gas pump, wanting to know what we in the 
Senate will do. Vermont, because of our mostly rural population, is 
more dependent on the Postal Service than are urban and densely 
populated States. Vermonters, almost to a person, subscribe to Ben 
Franklin's vision of a public Postal Service that guarantees the 
delivery of mail to everyone.
  These questions about the coming collapse of the Postal Service are 
strange to say the least. The USPS posted a $100 million profit from 
its business operations during the first quarter of fiscal year 2013. 
So how is it that a company that made $100 million in the first quarter 
of this fiscal year is in financial trouble? As in far too many other 
instances, the problem is not with the Postal Service, the problem is 
with the United States House of Representatives.

[[Page S3831]]

  In 2006, by unanimous consent, the Senate took up and passed the 
House's Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. One of the 
provisions of this bill, meant to shore up the long-term security of 
postal retiree health benefits, required that the Postal Service begin 
the prepayment of health benefits 75 years in advance. While no other 
public agency or private business stipulates this degree of prepayment, 
I consented in 2006 because the economy was strong, the Postal Service 
could manage these prepayments, and I believed that any needed changes 
to the proposal could be made with the same level of bipartisan comity 
as in 2006. How wrong I was.
  Of course, since 2006, the economy has collapsed, first-class mail 
volume has fallen precipitously, and bipartisanship in the Congress has 
taken a nose dive. These factors together explain how the U.S. House of 
Representatives has converted a $100 million profit in the first 
quarter of fiscal 2013 into a $1.3 billion loss. While many American 
businesses have gone under during the Great Recession and others have 
struggled just to stay afloat, House Republicans have refused to budge 
on the health benefits prepayment.
  You may ask why the onus resides at the feet of House Republicans. 
After all, the Senate consented to the 2006 House Republican-sponsored 
bill. But since that time, only the U.S. Senate has taken measures to 
solve the problem. Last year we took up and passed the 21st Century 
Postal Service Act of 2012, which would have lightened the fiscal 
burden on the Postal Service until its lost revenues from the economic 
slump and reductions in first-class mail could be offset by growth into 
the package delivery market. This bill was passed on a bipartisan basis 
here in the Senate despite record-breaking partisanship by the Senate 
minority. I should note, as with any bipartisan measure, there were 
provisions in this bill with which I disagreed. Yet it turned out to 
make little difference, since the Senate bill languished in the House. 
In fact, the House even failed to take up its own bill and pass it as 
an alternative to the Senate proposal.
  Meanwhile, the Postal Service continues to stagger under the crushing 
burden of 75 years of prepayments for retiree health benefits. This 
effort, which originally looked like a reasonable effort to shore up 
retiree benefits, has become the proverbial albatross.
  Rather than addressing this problem, the strategy of the House of 
Representatives appears to be to force the Postal Service into default, 
at which point their draconian demands for slashing cuts will look 
reasonable by comparison to their manufactured crisis. If this strategy 
sounds familiar, it should--it is the same strategy Republicans used to 
negotiate the Budget Control Act of 2011, using U.S. credit worthiness 
as a hostage they seemed more than willing to kill. This strategy 
ultimately cost the United States its triple-A rating with Standard and 
Poor's and an estimated $1.3 billion in additional interest payments in 
2011 alone, according to the Government Accountability Office. And that 
figure will escalate with time. That's $1.3 billion more that taxpayers 
will pay to Chinese lenders and Wall Street banks in order for 
Republicans to secure sequestration cuts to Medicare cancer treatments, 
cut National Guard technicians' salaries through furlough, and reduce 
Head Start programs for needy children.
  The strategy worked so well in the summer of 2011 that it has 
overtaken everything else in the Republican playbook. Unable to sell a 
shrinking vision of America to voters in 2012, Republicans are left 
with procedural mechanisms to obtain their desired outcome. Ironically, 
if they are successful, they are likely to simultaneously celebrate 
victory and blame President Obama and Senate Democrats for letting them 
get their way. If that seems like an absurdity, compare the conflicting 
statements of the Speaker of the House John Boehner and Chairman of the 
National Republican Congressional Committee Greg Walden on proposed 
cuts to Social Security in the President's 2014 budget proposal. The 
President finally proposed reductions to entitlement programs after 
Republicans had long demanded such cuts, eliciting muted praise from 
Speaker Boehner while Chairman Walden accused the President of ``going 
after seniors.'' I should note that as part of House leadership, 
Chairman Walden works for Speaker Boehner.
  So do not be surprised when a new rendition of this plan causes a 
default by the Postal Service, after which Republicans demand 
reductions in the Postal Service's competitive product line and massive 
layoffs of postal employees. I supported last year's Senate postal 
reform bill in the hope of striking a compromise. But there are better 
ways to balance the Postal Service's books, and recognizing that the 
House has refused compromise, I am glad to join Senator Sanders and 
other Democratic Senators in a full-throated articulation of a better 
vision for the USPS.
  This vision is articulated by our bill, the Postal Service Protection 
Act of 2013. This bill would allow the Postal Service to recover huge 
retirement pension overpayments estimated by the Inspector General of 
USPS to be $75 billion. It would alleviate the remaining health 
benefits prefunding requirement. It would protect postal customers from 
having their local postal facilities closed without the Postal Service 
following proper criteria. The bill would permit the Postal Service to 
sell non-postal products and services. It would allow the mailing of 
beer or wine by a licensed manufacturer in accordance with the laws of 
the States. It would permanently protect one of the Postal Service's 
greatest commercial advantages over its competitors, Saturday delivery. 
And it would set the table for long-term growth into the package 
delivery market by establishing a Chief Innovation Officer and a Postal 
Innovation Advisory Commission.
  Like any business enterprise, the Postal Service cannot cut its way 
to greatness. It must find areas where it can grow. The Postal Service 
Protection Act of 2013 would give the Postal Service the financial 
breathing room and innovation mechanisms it needs to chart a new and 
sustainable course in the next century, when email and package delivery 
will supplant first class mail. These changes do not diminish our 
commitment to Ben Franklin's vision; they facilitate its renewal, 
recognizing that while change is not easy, it is also unavoidable. In 
that spirit, I call on all Senators to join me in cosponsoring Senator 
Sanders' Postal Service Protection Act and in keeping faith with 
Americans by protecting an indispensable American institution.