Postal Reform Legislation Advances in US House: What’s Next?
On May 13, 2021, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved two separate but related bills addressing USPS finances and operations. The first, the bipartisan Postal Service Reform Act of 2021 (H.R. 3076 (PDF)), was approved by voice vote, making it now eligible for a floor vote in the US House of Representatives. The bill was introduced two days prior to committee consideration following a painstaking effort to craft a bipartisan document. Lead sponsors were Committee Chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Ranking Member Rep. James Comer (R-KY) along with original co-sponsors Government Operations Subcommittee Chair Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Ranking Member Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC).
The bill was approved by the committee without amendment or any audible dissension, and included bipartisan agreed upon elements such as: codifying six-day delivery, requiring postal employees to enroll in Medicare at eligibility age, and elimination of the requirement that USPS pre-fund its retiree health benefits for 75 years into the future.
All three of these provisions are major steps forward to bringing solvency to USPS, and all are supported by PRINTING United Alliance and its allies in the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, which represents the mailing industry supply chain. Postal employee unions and USPS itself have also endorsed the legislation. However, the bill does not include any language addressing postal rates, and, in particular, the potential dramatic rate increases recently proposed in the USPS 10-year strategic plan, “Delivering for America (PDF).”
As HR. 3076 moves to the next phase in the legislative process, PRINTING United Alliance will continue to urge improving amendments, such as those aimed at keeping rates affordable and predictable and shoring up service standards to ensure printed mail remains valuable to both mailers and consumers. While full House consideration of H.R. 3066 has not yet been scheduled, the prospects of its passage as a stand-alone bill or attached to another legislative vehicle are bright at the moment.
The second bill, the Postal Service Improvement Act of 2021 (H.R. 3077), though similarly named, was markedly different as it was debated more contentiously and approved with only Democrat votes. The base provisions of H.R. 3067 include: management of mail-in ballots in federal elections (by requiring inclusion of a USPS trackable barcode and other stylistic requirements) and extending paid parental leave to postal employees. Republicans opposed all Democrat-offered amendments, which focused on operational reforms ranging from upgrading USPS’ delivery fleet to electric vehicles to more stringent service standards. H.R. 3067 is now eligible for a full House vote, too, but its future is more in doubt.
Industry observers are well aware that Congress has considered similar postal reform bills in the past, nearly all of which were introduced with great fanfare only to see the policy changes flame out before the finish line due to partisan differences and competing legislative priorities. So, what’s new this time around? How can printers take action? And will we ever see that White House Rose Garden bill signing ceremony that turns all of the talk into actual law? Below, we examine the players, the politics and the policy of postal reform in 2021.
The key lawmakers driving postal reform legislation in the US House of Representatives include a mix of familiar and new faces. House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Ranking Member James Comer (R-KY) are in the official leadership positions in the House and worked fairly painstakingly to introduce the new bill together as a bipartisan team. Also, in the mix driving policy discussions in the House are a trio of Democrats with both personal interest and policy chops on the issue. They include: Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Chair of the Government Operations Subcommittee and whose Northern Virginia district includes a high concentration of USPS HQ workers, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), who counts approximately one dozen family members who’ve worked as USPS employees in the Boston area, and Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), who spent 30+ years as a postal employee rising in to a management position with expertise in USPS human resources. All three serve on the committee of jurisdiction and have personal passion for the issue.
Another Democrat of note is Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), whose suburban Chicago district is home to several print OEMs and vendors. Krishnamoorthi has become a vocal advocate for the case that increased postal rates correlate to drops in mail volume, as well as for the reliance of small business upon direct mail and USPS service.
Republicans will also play a role, however, as some in the GOP Conference view themselves as partisan defenders of USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a controversial figure appointed by President Trump. And due to quirky government budgeting formulas, there are those (mainly on the conservative side) skeptical of providing any on-paper financial relief to USPS and claim financial modernization policy equates to a government bailout of the agency.
Of note: Republicans representing rural districts are poised to have influence within their party as addresses on the outskirts of towns and deep into sparsely populated areas have borne the brunt of recent USPS service delays and poor delivery performances. This is particularly true in the Senate, where Western and Midwest Senators have actively engaged on the issue as it is of outsized importance to their constituents.
Following Election 2020, any legislation with a whiff of election or mail-in ballot reform is a non-starter with the bulk of Republicans. Other no-go’s with the GOP? Inclusion of fleet modernization as part of a transportation/infrastructure package and allowing USPS to offer banking services. Delivery of wine and spirits by USPS also remains controversial. (In offering an amendment to end this prohibition, Rep. Jackie Spier (D-CA), noted the drastic increase of online ordering of alcohol during the height of the pandemic — something to which many of us can likely relate!) And, again, the role Congress will (or won’t) play in postal rate increases also remains hotly contested and endlessly discussed.
The ultimate players are the “Big 4”: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). This high-level group will make the final call on whether the Postal Service Reform Act of 2021 eventually is sent to President Biden.
It’s hard to recall a time in recent history when the USPS enjoyed as much headline news exposure as it has in 2020-21. From Postmaster General DeJoy’s bull-in-the-china shop entrance (coinciding with conscience resignations amongst the highest ranks at USPS) to the massive Election 2020 vote-by-mail volume (with correlating intense partisan and legal battles) to a newfound public respect and affection for postal workers and package/mail delivery in the dark months of the COVID-19 pandemic – USPS has been and remains squarely in the spotlight. A new president with friendlier views to USPS is in the White House and Democrat majorities in the Senate/House have elevated postal employee union advocacy.
The print and packaging manufacturing sector will prove critical to the overall economic pandemic recovery, as some consumers may exhibit permanent change in buying habits leading to a new normal in package volume, and as advertising mail increases in value to retailers looking to market goods and services to reboot business. In this sense, a healthy, viable USPS delivery channel is tied to print and packaging industry jobs and growth. It is imperative that the print and packaging sector, its employees and its stakeholders engage politically – now, and vocally – to urge Congress to improve upon and pass this legislation. (Take action to urge Congress to pass meaningful postal reform here.)
Often when Congress is determined to introduce bipartisan legislation – and twists itself into a pretzel trying to achieve it – the outcry from stakeholders on both sides is typically, “The bill doesn’t go far enough.” The Postal Service Reform Act of 2021 is a textbook example of this response, at least at the outset. The Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, of which PRINTING United Alliance (formerly PIA) was a founding member, led the mailing industry’s unified response, spotlighting the excessive postal rate increases included in USPS’ 10-year strategic plan (“Delivering for America”) and urging Congress to add legislative language to protect consumers and business mailers from the negative impacts of raising rates dramatically. One way to accomplish this would be amending the legislation to require reconsideration of regulatory decisions allowing that new rate authority, plus allowing new investment options of USPS funds to seek better returns than are permitted under current law.
There’s never been more publicity surround USPS and – in recent times – the postal rate increase stakes have never been higher, all leading to the fact that Congress must act now to bring both short-term fiscal sanity and long-term operational viability to the nation’s postal system. Using the Postal Service Reform Act of 2021 as a base bill and adding improvements related to postal rate and service quality, Congress can truly help USPS be a reliable partner in guaranteeing reliable, affordable mail and shipping options for small and large businesses as– and for all of us who rely as individuals upon a quality USPS.
This will require a commitment not only from lawmakers, but from industry, too. To learn how your company can add its voice to the campaign for meaningful postal reform, visit www.21stcenturypostal.org.
In this article, Lisbeth addresses postal reform legislation pending in Congress. More information about mailing/shipping policy can be found at www.sgia.org or reach out to Lisbeth should you have additional questions specific to how these issues may affect your business: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To become a member of PRINTING United Alliance and learn more about how PRINTING United Alliance subject matter experts can assist your company with services and resources such as those mentioned in this article, please contact the Alliance membership team: 888-385-3588 / email@example.com.
Lisbeth Lyons is Vice President, Government & Political Affairs, PRINTING United Alliance, the largest, most comprehensive graphic arts trade association in the country. With more than 20 years of experience representing the voice of business on Capitol Hill, Lisbeth advocates for public policies that protect and advance the economic future of the printing and packaging industry. She oversees PRINTING United Alliance’s legislative, political, and grassroots advocacy initiatives, and has served in executive leadership of multiple successful advocacy campaigns, such as Coalition for Paper Options, Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, and Stop Tariffs on Printers & Publishers Coalition.
Prior to representing PRINTING United Alliance, Lisbeth served in similar roles at Printing Industries of America, US Telecom, and the National Federation of Independent Business. She also spent three years as a K-12 teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system, where she was on the forefront of urban education reform in the mid-1990s.
Lisbeth is Midwestern born and bred, having grown up in the St. Louis metropolitan area and attended college at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, before starting her career in Washington, DC. She holds a B.A. in English/Sociology and a professional graduate certificate from The George Washington University School of Political Management. She lives in the historic Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC.
An avid leader and learner in professional development, Lisbeth was a founding member of the Government Relations Leadership Forum, and is an active participant in organizations such as Council of Manufacturing Associations, Women in Government Relations, and National Association of Business PACs, among others. Lisbeth is often a featured speaker at premier industry conferences; she has spoken to Boards of Directors, corporate executive management teams, and state and regional trade associations across the country from coast to coast.