Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Measure to keep government running includes retention of six-day mail delivery

UPDATE, March 7: The House passed the bill.

Legislation drafted to keep the federal government running after March 27 includes language requiring the U.S. Postal Service to maintain full Saturday delivery of mail. The House may vote on it Thursday. If passed by Congress, the measure could thwart USPS's effort to end delivery of letters and periodicals in early August. The law requiring six-day delivery is in the continuing budget resolution that expires March 27.

The new continuing resolution was introduced by Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky (photo by David Perry, Lexington Herald-Leader), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, whose Appalachian district is one of the nation's most rural. The requirement for six-day mail is "is written in such a way that it will be hard to strike by amendment, if amendments are permitted," said Tonda Rush, CEO and chief lobbyist for the National Newspaper Association. "This is a very good sign." The six-day requirement is not explicit in the legislation, but would accomplish it by referring to previously enacted legislation.

A month ago, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe announced a plan to deliver only packages on Saturdays, a move he said would save the deficit-ridden service $2 billion. Critics have disputed that estimate. "Postal officials have said that they believe they could move forward with their plan even if congressional appropriators did not remove the six-day delivery language," Bernie Becker of The Hill reports, noting that other key Republicans, such as Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, support Donahoe's plan.

"Chairman Issa has said to some in the postal community that he believes USPS can still abide by the six-day delivery mandate by delivering some mail," Rush told The Rural Blog in an email. "The six-day mail mandate requires service at 1982 levels. Many think providing the truncated and much more expensive service is hardly complying with 1982 levels. Besides that, many on Capitol Hill are uncomfortable with the notion that USPS can decide not to follow legislative mandates. The question will be whether Congress can act definitively either way on six-day mail — either to keep it or abolish it. If USPS decides to strike out on its own, failing Congressional action, the question of its authority is likely to be decided not in Congress but in court."

The Saturday-mail issue is tied up in efforts to pass a postal reform bill to put the service closer to the black. The Senate passed a bill last year that guaranteed two more years of Saturday delivery but the House did not act on it. For more from The Hill, click here.

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