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Congress Unlikely to Help Ailing Postal Service This Year

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Friday, 15 Nov 2013 02:05 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Congress is not likely to pass laws this year to help the U.S. Postal Service, which is ending the 2013 fiscal year $5 billion in the red.

The Postal Service announced the drastic losses on Friday, which brought its total net losses since 2011 to $27 billion, reports The Washington Post.

The Postal Service is bleeding revenue from first-class mail, and it has already defaulted on three $5.5 billion payments into a future retirees healthcare fund.

A bipartisan bill, introduced in August to overhaul the postal service, was to have come up for a scheduled vote earlier this month, but was been delayed in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee because of Democratic concerns over service cuts and rate increases, the Post reports.

The Senate bill, proposed by Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn and Delaware Democratic Sen. Tom Carper, included phasing out Saturday and door mail delivery if necessary to help the Postal Service's financing.

Congressional aides said that the bill is not likely to make it to the Senate floor this year, even if the committee votes on it before the Thanksgiving recess.

A similar measure in the House, pushed through by Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, only has Republican support and has not yet reached the House floor.

Coburn and Carper say they want an agreement that satisfies both sides of the aisle. A Carper spokeswoman said he remains hopeful the committee can proceed with the bill this month.

But Sen. John Tester objects to the measure because it would impact rural areas a lot harder, by closing some post offices and larger distribution centers.

"I'm not going to support something that does as much stuff as this bill does," the Montana Democrat said. "In the end, unless there's changes, I think the bill's in trouble."

He added that his constituents often complain now that they don't receive their mail as quickly as in the past.

North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is working on amendments that will preserve Saturday deliveries and stop more mail sorting plants from closing.

The Postal Service is also seeking an emergency rate increase, bringing the cost of a stamp up from 46 cents to 49 cents, and raising rates for letters above one ounce and for postcards. But Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said Friday he'll withdraw the rate hikes if Congress passes laws to stabilize the agency's finances.

The Postal Service supports both the House and Senate bills, said Donahoe, but he also wants lawmakers to add language that requires postal retirees to enroll in Medicare instead of choosing higher-cost insurance plans. This move alone would save the postal service $8 billion annually.

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