Postal Service stuck in middle of budget battle

The United States Postal Service’s ability to end Saturday mail delivery has made its way into the debate over funding the federal government after March 27.

Photo by Alexander Marks via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Alexander Marks (Wikimedia Commons).

The House and Senate are trying to find common ground on a continuing resolution to fund the government until October. If a deal isn’t reached by next Friday, parts of the government will shut down until a compromise is reached.

Currently, the Senate is amending a House bill that includes language that would force the Postal Service to keep delivering the mail on Saturdays, a measure the Postal Service hopes to end in a money-saving move.

The House bill references a rider stating that, “Provided further, that six-day delivery and rural delivery of mail shall continue at not less than the 1983 level.” That rider has been part of spending legislation for 30 years.

Related Story: Can the Postal Service legally end Saturday deliveries?

But in the House, two representatives were divided on what that language means.

Representative Jose E. Serrano, a Democrat from New York, said that the language means, in no uncertain terms, that the Postal Service must keep six-day delivery.

“The Continuing Resolution is clear; there will be six day delivery for the rest of the fiscal year,” said Serrano in a statement. “This bill included advance appropriations for the Postal Service which continued the provision requiring six day delivery. There is no longer any possibility of misinterpretation: according to their own legal analysis these steps require the Postal Service to maintain six day delivery.”

However, Representative Darrell Issa, the House Oversight Committee Chairman, said through a spokesman that the language is vague enough to allow the Postal Service to move forward with ending Saturday delivery.

“USPS has the authority to implement the modified Saturday delivery plan under current law and retains that authority if this provision were to be continued in its current form,” said Ali Ahmad, an Issa spokesman.

In the wacky world of Washington, Serrano voted against the House continuing resolution (even though he supported the part about the Postal Service), while Issa voted for it.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid is already on record objecting to the end of Saturday mail delivery.

Senator Bob Corker also issued a statement criticizing the continuing resolution from the House.

“If this action is carried through, Congress will be hamstringing the Postal Service, hastening its demise and probably adding additional financial burdens to U.S. taxpayers,” said Corker.

But in February, a group of 24 senators publicly questioned the end of Saturday mail delivery. The group was mostly Democrats and expressed concerns about rural delivery, and the Postal Service ending weekend deliveries without congressional approval.

“We believe your proposal does not comply with the existing statutory requirement to continue six-day delivery and rural delivery mail services at no less than the 1983 levels,” the letter said. “As such it is in violation of P.L. 112-175, the Continuing Appropriations Resolution, which extends the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, P.L. 112-74. Section 101(a) of P.L. 112-175 specifically extends the funding levels of the FY12 appropriations law, “under the authority and conditions provided” in the previous funding resolution, except as otherwise stated in the CR.”

The post office was established by the Constitution in 1787. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution enumerates the powers of Congress, and gives Congress the power to establish and maintain post offices, along with roads to support the service.

The Postal Service believes some $2 billion annually can be saved by scaling back its Saturday services.

In February, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe told a Senate committee that the change was needed because of “urgent” financial problems. Senators also learned that Donahoe had been advised by a lawyer that the language of the current continuing resolution allowed him to stop Saturday delivery without congressional approval.

In 2006, Congress passed a law that required the Postal Service to fund retirement health benefits in advance. The Postal Service says the prefunding requirement, along with the growth of email, have kept it from being a profitable business.

And while the continuing resolution will keep some payments flowing from the federal government to the Postal Service, the agency faces a potentially bigger problem this fall.

Bloomberg News reported in January that the Postal Service could run out of money by October 2013.

One interesting item from this week is news that additional funding for the Postal Service could be in a proposed fiscal year 2014 budget being drawn up by the Senate. It includes an undetermined amount of spending on Postal Service discretionary administrative expenses.

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