By Ali Zaslav and Paul LeBlanc, CNN
The Senate on Tuesday passed sweeping bipartisan legislation to overhaul the US Postal Service’s finances and allow the agency to modernize its operations.
The final vote was overwhelmingly bipartisan 79-19. The bill now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.
The Postal Service Reform Act — which cleared the House last month by 342-92 — would require retired postal employees to enroll in Medicare when eligible, while dropping a previous mandate that forced the agency to cover its health care costs years in advance. Those two measures would save the USPS nearly $50 billion over the next decade, according to the House Oversight Committee. The legislation would also require the USPS to create an online dashboard with local and national delivery time data.
Ahead of the vote on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer touted that once the legislation passes, postal reform will finally be “signed, sealed and delivered for the American people.”
“We all know that when the post office is forced to cut hours of operation or delivery routes or lay off workers, the rest of us are worse off,” Schumer said. “Thankfully, for the past few months, Democrats and Republicans have been working together in good faith to reform some of the most troubled parts of the Postal Service.”
Established in 1775 to promote the free exchange of ideas across the colonies, the Postal Service is among the country’s oldest government institutions — yet it operates with few of the financial benefits of being a federal agency while still bearing many of the costs.
Unlike other government agencies, the USPS generally does not receive taxpayer funding, and instead must rely on revenue from stamps and package deliveries to support itself.
And unlike private courier services such as UPS and FedEx, the USPS cannot excise unprofitable routes because Congress stipulates that the Postal Service delivers to all homes in America — including a remote community in the Grand Canyon, where the mail is delivered by mule. Postal Service pricing must be approved by the Postal Regulatory Commission, an independent government agency.
While lawmakers from both parties have hailed the legislation as an important step for the USPS, Paul Steidler, a Postal Service expert at the Lexington Institute, told CNN it doesn’t go nearly far enough.
“The bill is woefully insufficient because it does nothing to improve mail service. It takes the pressure off of the Postal Service to better understand and to reduce its costs. And it doesn’t sufficiently empower the Postal Regulatory Commission, which right now is very small and has very tiny resources compared to the Postal Service.”
Sen. Gary Peters, a Democrat from Michigan who introduced the Senate version of the USPS legislation, said Tuesday in floor remarks that by approving this bill, “this body can show the nation that Congress can indeed build consensus. We can work on a bipartisan basis and get things done for the American people.”
Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who co-sponsored the Senate bill, added that “saving the Post Office is the right thing to do”
“Neither of us got exactly what we wanted, both had to make concessions,” Portman said. “But we are actually doing the right thing for the country here to save the Post Office.”
CORRECTION: The story has been corrected to specify that US Postal Services prices are approved and overseen by the Postal Regulatory Commission.
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