Congress Fails to Pass Postal Reform, Adjourns for November Election
Congress adjourned last week without passing postal reform, dimming hopes that the much-needed measure would pass before the end of the year. “I think the outlook is gloomy at best,” says American Business Media’s postal counsel David Strauss. “Conventional wisdom amongst the lobbyists in Washington is that if the Democrats take control of the House or the Senate, there will be no chance of passing it in the lame duck session that will follow the elections.”
Postal reform legislation, passed by the House of Representatives last year and the Senate in February, should have gone on to conference so that the House and the Senate could compromise on a joint bill that ultimately would have ended up on the president’s desk.
But the bill lost steam over the summer and never made it to conference, Strauss said. “I believe it did have a chance before Congress adjourned because the majority party in the White House wanted to get something done before the election because it’s been so frequently criticized as a do-nothing Congress,” he said. “There was no immigration bill, no lobbying reform, so passing postal reform was supposed to be a feather in the cap for the elections. But it’s too late for that now.”
Postal reform addresses a number of issues, including the need to maintain an escrow fund to cover unfunded retirement benefits. It is most immediately relevant to magazine mailers in terms of the rate-setting process. The bill proposes that future rate increases be tied the Consumer Price Index. But the House and Senate failed to reach an agreement on the bill’s “exigency clause,” which would allow for a special rate hike for an emergency or circumstances beyond the control of the Postal Service. The two sides also were unable to agree on negotiated service agreements (NSA), which allow the USPS to go off its rate card and cut deals with large-volume mailers.
Even if it had passed, the legislation would have had little impact on the Postal Service’s current rate case, which proposes an average of an 11.4 percent increase on periodicals mailing. And Strauss says the bill would not have brought immediate relief to the publishing industry. “Over the long-term it will help, but there will be no immediate benefit,” he said. “It’s not a panacea. It should be promoted and it should be passed. But I don’t want people to think that if it passes, postal rates will immediately go down, service will improve and everything is going to be great.”