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H.R. 2309: A plan to dismantle the USPS

The GOP-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee “marked up” and passed a radical and partisan postal reform bill offered by its chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), on Oct. 13. The bill, H.R. 2309, advanced the same day that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its most recent report on the CSRS pensions dispute.

Rather than address the postal crisis caused by the pre-funding mandate, the Issa bill seeks to exploit the crisis to advance anti-worker ideological goals. Radically downsizing the government and gutting the collective-bargaining rights of hard-working postal employees appear to be the main goals of the legislation.

Unfortunately, by destroying the hub of a $1.3 trillion industry that employs 7.5 million private-sector workers, H.R. 2309 may be the most anti-business bill taken up by Congress in years. Slashing service and forcing a massive round of post office closings would seriously damage the printing, publishing, paper and financial services industries. Tens of thousands of veterans who work for the Postal Service would face the loss of their jobs. At a time of massive unemployment, H.R. 2309 would mandate, not just lead to, the destruction of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Chairman Issa and postal subcommittee chairman Dennis Ross (R-FL) pounced on the GAO report as vindication of their views, while apparently failing to read what the report says. They latched onto a rather narrow point in the GAO report that the agency could find no errors or mathematical mistakes in the OPM’s calculations to claim “there was no overpayment.” But the GAO made a broader point---that the debate hinges on allocation methods used. It agrees with OPM, erroneously in our view, that the laws passed by Congress mandated a specific methodology. However, the GAO concluded that the methods proposed by the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) and the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General (OIG)—adopted by H.R. 1351—were also reasonable and that Congress could make the determination that they should be used.

Not content to read what the report actually said, Rep. Ross issued a press release that states:

Today, GAO put empirical and numerical teeth into the argument the Chairman and I have been making for months. Namely, that there is no overpayment, that the Postal Service is being correctly and fairly assessed for the cost of its own collective bargaining agreements and that any legislation purporting to ‘return’ money to USPS is nothing but a taxpayer bailout by another name.

The second sentence alone sets a record for deceptive spin. Civil Service Retirement Service (CSRS) pension benefits are not set by collective-bargaining; they are set by law. There are no proposals pending to “return” CSRS money to the USPS; there are reasonable proposals to fairly allocate pension costs and allow the USPS to use its surplus CSRS pension benefits to cover the onerous cost of pre-funding retiree health benefits. And H.R. 1351 and similar proposals would not send any taxpayer money to the USPS; they would allocate CSRS funds resulting from the contributions of employees and postage rate-payers to cover the cost of postal retiree health benefits, period. There is no proposed taxpayer bailout of the USPS. Rep. Ross is on an ideological mission to dismantle the Postal Service and is seeking political cover from the GAO.

(The GAO report did suggest that transferring a fairly calculated postal surplus in CSRS to the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefit Fund would result in a larger unfunded liability for the non-postal portion of the CSRS, a liability that taxpayers would have to fund. But that is as it should be: Taxpayers, not postage rate-payers, should pay the full cost of non-postal government services.)

NALC will work with its allies in both parties in the House of Representatives who have co-sponsored H.R. 1351 and with its allies in the mailing industry and business community to promote sensible postal reform.

Unfortunately, H.R. 2309 is a non-starter.