Legislative Agenda: Where Does the U.S Postal Service Go From Here?
There are two ways to look at 2016 from a political standpoint. President Obama will be looking for a few crowning accomplishments in the final year of his two-term presidential saga, and what better way to go out on a high note than to sign off on some bipartisan legislation?
If you listen closely enough, you can actually hear Republican eyes rolling. The second path, espoused by pessimists (but ultimately more realistic) is that because a presidential election looms in November, not much is going to be accomplished. Campaigning will take the place of any actual legislation getting pushed through. There are a couple of items that are extremely likely to see activity post-election (more on this shortly) but, in the interim, the printing industry’s interests can be promoted on a couple of fronts.
As always, we turn to the printing industry’s leading legislative advocate/veteran lobbyist Lisbeth Lyons—the vice president of government affairs for Printing Industries of America (PIA)—for the lowdown on what hot button topics will be pursued during the weeks and months leading up to the presidential election. We will give you one agenda item per day—like a vitamin—to help (but not overtax) that heart of yours.
Postal Reform is the legislative equivalent to Waiting for Godot…a lot of talk but no appearance. A reform bill passed the House in 2013, but S.1486—championed by Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)—failed miserably. Nothing is imminent in terms of reform, but the U.S. Postal Service rate-setting aspect could be getting attention shortly.
Not a lot of positives emerged in 2015 on this front, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort. The USPS, its labor unions and industry stakeholders (represented by the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service) formed a task force of sorts—in recognition of Congress’ inability to push through a reform package—to see if there were any legislative fixes that might help. So the power trio looked at a possible financial stabilization package, one that didn’t include “third rail issues” such as Saturday delivery and postal facility closures. Instead, they tackled the current prefunding retiree health care benefits requirement, along with rate-setting methodologies.
In November, the tripartite finally threw its hands up in surrender. No consensus could be reached, particularly in regards to rate setting. They learned what Congress already knew…reform is truly a four-letter word.
But just when you thought all hope was lost, the last reform package pushed through by Congress in 2006 called for a postal regulatory review in 10 years on the rate-setting process. The exigency rate increase is due to go away in 2016, so efforts will be made by USPS to keep them intact, while mailers will seek to sustain the rollback.
“We saw two choices,” Lyons notes. “Do we try to push legislation that would help give the Postal Service financial stabilization heading into that 2017 review—the idea being that the healthier the Postal Service was financially, the less likely the PRC [Postal Regulatory Commission] would be to substantially change and raise the rates going forward? Or is it better to stay with the status quo and leave the next big battle to the PRC case? That’s ultimately where the industry was split on that question. The Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service said the status quo remained their position.”
Jim Andersen, CEO of IWCO Direct, the Chanhassen, Minnesota-based mailing juggernaut, believes solidarity will go a long way toward ensuring that the USPS can enter the 2017 review in good shape.
“As we move toward the PRC review of the postage rate-making process, postal stakeholders (USPS, its labor unions and the mailing/printing/paper industry) need to find common ground on postal reform legislation that will ensure the Postal Service is in a strong, stable financial position going into this review,” he says. “Of primary importance to the industry will be the continuation of the inflation-based rate cap system that has proven effective in controlling the growth of postal costs and allowing mail to retain its important role in marketing and other communications.”