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Issa unveils modified postal bill

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Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has just released a “discussion draft” of a bill intended to put the U.S. Postal Service on a more stable, long-term financial footing.

The bill, which has not yet been introduced, bears some resemblance to the measure that the California Republican unsuccessfully pushed in the 2011-2012 session of Congress. It would, for example, temporarily replace the USPS board of governors with a presidentially appointed panel of five outside executives who would have the power to shake up the agency’s top management and take any steps necessary under the law to “ensure the long-term solvency” of the Postal Service, according to a summary provided by Issa’s office.

The measure would also allow an end to Saturday mail delivery while requiring continued package delivery, which, of course, is what Postmaster General Pat Donahoe wants to do anyway.

But the draft drops the idea of setting up the equivalent of a BRAC commission to close post offices and mail processing plants. It would provide some significant relief from the current requirement for the Postal Service to “pre-pay” about $5.5 billion annually for future retiree health care and would also channel projected pension surpluses toward those retiree health care benefits.

While Issa looks forward to a “robust” discussion of the draft bill, he has no timetable for introducing it, spokesman Ali Ahmad said. The Postal Service, which was cool towards Issa’s previous bill, is reviewing the draft, a spokesman said. But there is no sign that release of the proposed bill will end the stalemate over how best to fix the mail carrier. Despite plenty of lip service to bipartisanship, lawmakers remain deeply divided (largely along partisan lines) over how much more deeply labor costs should be cut, whether to let the Postal Service create its own health insurance plan and other issues. No comprehensive legislation has so far been introduced in the Senate, although Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said this week that he still hopes to come to agreement with the panel’s top Republican, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. In the House, Issa’s draft drew a guarded reception from the oversight committee’s top Democrat, Elijah Cummings of Maryland.

“Although I appreciate the chairman’s efforts to focus attention on the financial challenges facing the Postal Service, I have serious reservations about some of this bill’s provisions,” Cummings said in a statement. “I continue to believe that any bill Congress considers should be a bipartisan, comprehensive solution that solves the Postal Service’s immediate financial problems and puts the Postal Service on sound financial footing.”

[This post has been updated and expanded.]

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