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Carper Says Postal Reform Can Be Passed in Lame Duck Session

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The Senate bill coauthor is willing to compromise on some measures, but not on his resolve to make the exigent rate permanent.


In a podcast airing today on, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) said he thinks that it's eminently possible that the Postal Reform Act (PRA) he coauthored with Sen.Tom Coburn (R-OK) can be passed in the lame duck Senate session that will commence following tomorrow's midterm elections.

“When I present this [bill] to my colleagues, I will remind them that there are seven or eight million jobs in this country that depend directly or indirectly on the Postal Service. And one of the best ways to ensure this economic recovery continues unimpeded is to pass legislation that makes it possible for the Postal Service to be successful,” Carper said. “Dr. Coburn and I need to bring a bill to the floor that can be debated in a day or two, with maybe a half dozen or so amendments. That's the idea. Not to suspend for two weeks as we've done in the past.”

If Carper has his way, none of those amendments is likely to countermand the measure in his bill that calls for the 4.3% exigent rate increase to be instituted on a permanent basis. In recent months, according to industry sources, mailers' representatives and postal union officials met and agreed on compromises to speed passage of reform. In return for no change in service standards and mailers' acceptance of annual rate hikes of CPI plus 1%, union leaders apparently agreed to support a rollback of the exigent increase.

But Carper told Direct Marketing News that he intended to stick to his guns on the baking of the 4.3% increase into the base rate. “Our bill says that's the new baseline,” Carper said. “Our friends in the mailing community would like to see that go away, but part of the problem is making sure the postal service has the revenues they need.”

Both the Postal Service and a mailers' group have petitions pending on the exigency issue with the D.C. Court of Appeals. Mailers contend that the country has recovered from the Great Recession that the Postal Service used as grounds for seeking emergency recovery of funds. Its brief holds that USPS should stick to the limit imposed on the exigent increase when Postal Regulatory Commission approved in last December—two years or the recovery of $3.2 billion in revenue. The postal service's petition calls the mailers' argument “absurd” and argues that the economy is still in recovery mode.

Standard Mail, the class used by most direct mailers, is the single largest revenue contributor to USPS among all mail classes. The general feeling among mailers is that they are already subsidizing other classes of mail, and further rate increases might serve to force them to decrease their mailings. It appears mailers have more lobbying to do, however, if they wish to move Carper and Coburn off their position on exigency.

“I think we're willing to talk,” Carper said, though it was clear he feared that the exigency issue could stall passage of PRA if allowed to surface in lame duck sessions. “One of the things we have in our bill is a provision that says by 2017 the Postal Service, in conjunction with the Postal Regulatory Commission and with input from all kinds of stakeholders—mailers and others—would have an opportunity to negotiate a new rate structure. So we're talking about something that would be in place for a couple of years before that negotiation occurs.”

That calls to mind a comment made by Michigan Senator Carl Levin in a hearing on postal finances earlier this year. “In all my years in government,” Levin said. “I don't ever remember a rate being negotiated downward.”

Listen to the Podcast here.

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