Tue April 24, 2012

Senate Debates Bennet Amendment, 37 Others Aimed at Reform of U.S. Postal Service [Updated]

UPDATE 4:14 p.m.: The U.S. Senate has adopted the amendment co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Michael Bennet that would put a moratorium on the closing or consolidation of postal facilities until after the 2012 election in Colorado. Debate will resume at 2:30 EST Wednesday.

The U.S. Senate is voting this afternoon on up to 38 amendments to the 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012, which seeks to change everything from how the agency funds its pension system to eliminating Saturday mail delivery.

The USPS is losing billions, and considering the closure of 62 Colorado post offices, many of which are in rural areas.

Democratic Senator Michael Bennet co-sponsored an amendment that would prevent Colorado post office closures from happening until after the 2012 elections.

“I don’t think it’s for Washington to decide how we run these elections,” he said in a conference call with reporters this morning. “And the disruption that it would cause could be serious.”

Bennet says that 70 percent of Colorado voters cast their ballots by mail in 2010. However, USPS spokesperson in Denver, David Rupert, told KUNC that the agency is currently losing $23 million per day due to declining revenue and rising operating costs.

“That’s our revenues versus what we spend,” he said in February. “So we look forward to a quick resolution to our issues.”

Other amendments would put strict geographical parameters on USPS closures (facilities couldn’t be closed if they are more than 50 miles from the closest office) and require the USPS to seek certification from the Governor of the State before closing offices there.

In addition to making the USPS more efficient, legislators are looking at ways that the USPS can generate more revenue. Sen. Bennet has put forth a second amendment that seeks to study and develop a plan for the agency to issue things like social security cards and hunting or fishing licenses.

This topic of revenue generating streams has been tricky for the USPS to navigate in the past, according to a New York Times article published on Friday. Congress has curbed ventures that directly competed with private companies--even services provided by FedEx and U.P.S, according to the Times:

Well before online bill paying was popular, the Postal Service in 2000 began operating a secure system that would have allowed it to remain the primary conduit for most Americans’ monthly payments. But the Internet industry objected, and Congress successfully pressured the Postal Service to abandon it.

The same pattern has repeated several times over the last decade, with the Postal Service identifying a way to cope with the decline of traditional mail, only to have companies — and ultimately Congress — object.

In December, Congress passed a five-month moratorium on the USPS moving forward with closures of post offices or distribution centers. That measure is lifted on May 15.