Because the Postal Service has been awash in a sea of red ink since 2008, Senators and Representatives have focused on legislation to reform the postal system for three consecutive Congresses. That legislation has failed in each of those three consecutive Congresses. But in the new 114th Congress, there may be a potential alignment of the stars that could lead to a breakthrough and a bill that could stabilize this venerable, but still highly valued and heavily used, national institution.
First, quickly, why did legislation stall three times in a row? In each case, the approach was too broad. One person’s solution was another’s cure that was worse than the disease. Items such as ending Saturday delivery, mandating a major shift from curbside delivery to centralized clusterboxes, interfering with collective bargaining, shifting authority to the Postal Service Board of Directors (called “Governors”) from its regulator, the Postal Regulatory Commission, adding layers of bureaucracy, and more, were political “third rails” which drove important constituencies and blocs of legislators into opposition. The result was predictable.
So, why is 2015 any different? The Committees of jurisdiction in both the House and Senate have new Chairs and a relatively clean slate. Importantly, there is a new Postmaster General who seems more open and flexible on reaching solutions to help her agency. And there is the example from the second half of last year when two major postal constituencies, the postal labor unions and the business mailing community and its suppliers in paper, printing and technology, reached a compromise approach that drew support from pivotal Members, but ran out of time.
That compromise was to focus only on stabilizing USPS financially. No other reforms. All “third rail” political issues were thrown over the side. And each side made painful concessions for the greater good. The principles of that deal were that it had to achieve that financial stability while protecting taxpayers from the need for a bailout, and preserving the services the public has come to expect from the Postal Service.
There is some hope that these various stars will actually align, and a compromise, streamlined bill can be crafted, passed and sent to the President. Having said that, it is far from a slam dunk. Many obstacles remain; some Members and constituencies will be difficult to satisfy. Nonetheless, the conditions for progress seem more encouraging than at any time since 2006, when the last overhaul of the Postal Service, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, was enacted.