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Postal System Changes are coming

April 14, 2012

This article is re-posted from OpenSecrets.org.

Watching paint dry might sound more exciting to some Americans than overhauling the postal service — until they realize that post offices will be closed, Saturday delivery is on the chopping block and other things they take for granted are up for debate.

That’s the hornet’s nest that Congress will be stirring up over the next few weeks. The issue took on new urgency last year when the United States Postal Service announced it would have to close hundreds of distribution centers and thousands of small post offices to stay solvent.

Furious efforts to save local post offices have ensued, of course, but the whole topic has been red-hot in Washington, where a wide range of special interests have weighed in. They include some of the heaviest hitters OpenSecrets.org keeps track of, like postal unions and FedEx, as well as groups from more obscure corners of the lobbying world, like the Envelope Manufacturers of America (yes, envelopes have lobbyists).

Lawmakers have until May 15 to come up with a postal bill – that’s the deadline set by the USPS before it implements its own plan to close post offices (mostly rural) and tinker with rates. That ensures the matter won’t wind up in the dead letter office.

Two major versions of postal reform legislation are being considered: the 21st Century Postal Service Act, which is headed to the floor in the Senate, and the Postal Reform Act of 2011. Both would drastically change the USPS as we know it with rate increases, post office closings and changes to the postal workers’ retirement system. Potential new revenue streams could come from allowing the shipment of beer, wine and liquor (which FedEx and UPS already do) and giving the USPS the green light to offer some financial services.

Even before this last-minute push, the postal service revamping has been a source of drama on the Hill. For instance, the House version of the overhaul legislation, which includes layoffs, has been shepherded by the chairman of the Government Oversight and Reform Committee, Darrell Issa (R-Calif). Issa was once a favorite of the postal unions – but since he began pushing the reform bill this election cycle much of that money has been shut off. The Senate’s leading voice against cuts is Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), a perennial favorite favorite of public-sector union money.

Of course, lawmakers have heard from FedEx and UPS, both of whom have a lot riding on the viability of their biggest competitor. Both also qualify as heavy hitters on OpenSecrets.org for their intense Washington presence on the lobbying and campaign finance scene (both companies even own townhouses near the United States Capitol building to host fundraising events for lawmakers).

And, with tens of thousands of public employees affected, the unions and groups that represent those workers have been out in force: there’s the National Association of Letter Carriers, and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, both of which are affiliates of union heavyweight AFL-CIO.

There’s also the National Rural Letter Carriers Association, which represents mail-carriers far from the big metropolises. The National Association of Postmasters goes to bat for managers, and the National Star Route Mail Contractor Association backs contractors the post office uses to ship mail. The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association had to say something about this, since most suggestions involve changes to the pension fund for postal employees.

And those are just the heaviest of the heavy hitters in the fight. Check out the full spectrum of groups that have lobbied on the two pieces of legislation, including some surprising names.

21st Century Postal Service Act

Postal Reform Act of 2011

Or, to help keep tabs on all the interests talking to Congress about the big business that is your mail, look up our info on lobbying in the entire “postal” issue area.

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