The U.S. Congress that expired this week might have steered
the nation away from the "fiscal cliff" of potentially
devastating tax hikes and spending cuts, but it did not do
much to save the U.S. Postal Service from its own
The cash-strapped mail carrier that lost almost $US16 billion
in the past year, ran into its legal borrowing limit and
defaulted twice on required payments to the federal
government, now turns to the newly sworn-in Congress for
The Postal Service loses $US25 million every day, it says, as
more Americans communicate by email and the massive payments
for future retiree benefits take a toll.
It could run out of money in a little more than nine months,
according to some estimates.
But Congress, bogged down by disagreements between lawmakers
from rural and urban districts and distracted by fiscal
policy fights, has not been able to agree on legislation to
overhaul the struggling agency.
A bipartisan bill passed the Democratic-led Senate last year
that would have ended Saturday mail delivery and eased its
benefit payment obligations.
But the Republican-led House of Representatives, which had
advocated for aggressive post office closures, never voted on
a postal bill.
And several of the key negotiators left Congress or changed
committees this week, leaving the future of postal
legislation uncertain as the agency's financial condition
"It's important that they prioritise postal service
legislation," said Art Sackler, head of the Coalition for a
21st Century Postal Service, which represents mailers. "We
don't want to have it get lost again in the big shuffle."
As the 112th Congress expired this week, so did the proposed
legislation that would have provided some legislative
direction for the Postal Service as it seeks a more
profitable business model.
In a prepared statement, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe
called Congress' inaction disappointing and said he would be
looking to the new set of lawmakers to make postal reform
legislation a priority.
Some of the players are changing. The Senate bill succeeded
in large part because it was pushed by a bipartisan group of
members, several of whom had experience and knowledge on
Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Independent who led the Senate
Committee on Government Affairs, has retired. Massachusetts
Republican Scott Brown lost his bid for re-election, and
fellow Republican Susan Collins will no longer sit on the
That means all eyes are on Thomas Carper, a Delaware Democrat
who now leads the government affairs committee and is
expected to lead the Senate push for legislative reform in
the new Congress.
Delay the postal service's demise
House Republicans last year criticised the Senate bill, which
they said would only delay the Postal Service's demise, but
were unable to get enough support to pass their own bill.
Carper and Republican Representative Darrell Issa of
California, the chairman of the House Oversight and
Government Reform Committee and a lead voice on postal
legislation last year, said in a joint statement on Thursday
they were committed to working together to reform the postal
Sackler said his group expects that the compromises reached
by the previous Senate will be reintroduced in the new
Some of the compromises, he said, included delaying the
ending of Saturday mail delivery for a year while giving the
Postal Service time to figure out a profitable business
model, as well as spreading the funding of the future retiree
health benefits program over 40 years, up from the current
The postal service has blamed much of its recent troubles on
this pre-funding requirement as well as on the reduced mail
volumes as more people communicate electronically. About 70
percent of last year's loss was attributed to the future
retiree health benefits program.
"The Postal Service should not have to do business this way,
which has undermined the confidence of our customer base and
the $US800 billion mailing industry we serve," Donahoe said
in his written statement, released Thursday.
The Postal Service, he said, had made changes to its
operations to allow Congress to pass legislation that will
save it. Over the last two years, it has shed about 60,000
jobs, reduced hours at some of the post offices and
consolidated some of its facilities, while increasing package
Sackler said, if nothing is done soon, the Postal Service
could run out of money by October.
"The bottom line here is that there is a postal cliff
impending and Congress really needs to act," he said. "We
need the bill passed and signed by the president."