POSTAL ACCOUNTABILITY AND ENHANCEMENT ACT -- (House of Representatives - December 08, 2006)
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Mr. McHUGH. Mr. Speaker, I thank the chairman.
I had a friend of mine say the other day, gee, 11 1/2 years dedicated to one issue, that is a long time. My observation was, there are people in certain jurisdictions in this country that have spent less time for committing murder than I have spent on this bill. I am not sure what the parallel there is, but if there is any truth in the old adage that anything worth having is worth waiting for, this is a very, very good night.
This is an excellent bill. It is not a perfect bill, but the fact that you can take the mix of interests that is represented in this piece of legislation, unions, mailers, postal dependents and postal competitive industries, the postal service itself, and have them virtually uniformly and universally support it suggests that it is a remarkable achievement.
In that regard, I want to thank so many people: former Chairman Bill Clinger who first presented me the challenge and the opportunity of advancing this initiative; then, of course, Dan Burton, the follow-on chairman, the gentleman from Indiana, who kept it alive; and most recently, most importantly, the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Tom Davis) who really pushed it over the goal line. We are all deeply in his debt.
The minority as well: Henry Waxman; Danny Davis, the gentleman who tonight is managing this bill very appropriately, as he has managed the affairs from the minority side on this issue so very, very ably; Chaka Fattah, who was the ranking member when we really got into the meat of this issue; Barbara Rose Collins, the first ranking member, and on and on and on.
But most of all, those who had the greatest stake in this initiative, the unions, the postal service, Jack Potter, the mailers, the mailing dependent mailers, those in the competitive industry, those who understood that for whatever their differences might be, their need for a common cause, their need for reform should override all of it. And at the end of the day, as we see here tonight, they put that aside.
Special thanks to the staff. They are the folks who, whatever the endeavor in this House, are really the ones who do the lion's share of the work. Of course, Dan Blair who is the chief of staff and the person who headed up the Postal Subcommittee for the Government Reform Committee when we first began this initiative, and foremost, most importantly, Robert Taub, a man who as I have said on this House floor so many times before brings such compassion, such passion, such patience, really embodied in any individual that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I am proud to call him a colleague. I am proud to call him my friend, and today, it is perhaps the finest hour of his work because of the effort he has put together.
This bill represents 80 percent, probably more than 80 percent, of the first bill we introduced some 11 1/2 years ago. That is a pretty remarkable achievement. The postal service is the kind of endeavor that touches the lives of virtually each and every American each and every day, and while it may not garner the kind of attention and passion and interest that some other issues do, at the end of the day, it is one of the most important activities.
Most of all, this is for the postal workers, those 800,000-plus strong who go out every day and do their job so effectively, so efficiently that for the vast majority of our constituents, the last thing they think of when they walk to their mailbox or go to their post office is will the mail be there. It will. And through this legislation, through this advancement, hopefully it will continue in that regard.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great night, a great day for all Americans, and I thank all of those who have endeavored so hard for more than a decade to make it a reality.
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It has been more than 36 years since President Nixon signed into law the most comprehensive postal legislation since the founding of the Republic, the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970. The Post Office Department was transformed into the United States Postal Service, an independent establishment of the executive branch of the Government of the United States.
The universal service mission of the Postal Service remained the same, as stated in Title 39 of the U.S. Code: ``The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities.''
The new Postal Service officially began operations on July 1, 1971. In the intervening 35 years, the commercial environment in which the Postal Service operates has changed. In 1971, UPS had a much smaller percentage of the parcel market, FedEx didn't exist, and the Internet had not been created. As we know, these developments have drastically altered the postal and delivery sector of our economy. Yet, in the last three and a half decades our Nation's postal laws have changed very little. I do not know of any entity in the United States today, public or private, that is still operating with such an outdated structure.
A report by the President's Commission on the Postal Service concluded that without a new approach, the future of universal mail service is in peril. According to the Secretary of the Treasury, ``We really need to get it done now ..... the business model of the Postal Service just doesn't work anymore. It's not sustainable in light of all the technological changes and changes in the marketplace.''
Today we have a choice ..... whether to vote to preserve universal postal service at uniform rates to every stretch of this Nation, or whether to instead vote ``no'' and assign the Postal Service to an almost certain future of ever escalating increases in postal prices and devastating post office closures. The bill we have before us is the product of extensive bipartisan/bicameral efforts
with the Government Reform Committee Chairman, the Committee's Ranking Member, the Committee Member from Illinois (i.e., Mr. DANNY DAVIS), and me, together with our colleagues in the other body, particularly Senators COLLINS, CARPER, and LIEBERMAN. I want to take a moment to underscore my appreciation for the hard work that each of them took to bring about a proposed solution, in close collaboration with the Administration. This bill is truly a consensus document, having built upon H.R. 22 as it passed the House in the last session 413-20, and then the Senate by unanimous consent in February of this year.
I have heard it said, time and time again, and it is absolutely true, this is not a perfect bill. I cannot imagine any person, short of someone suffering from multiple personality disorder, who would sit down and, by themselves, craft this particular piece of legislation. But I think that is true of any product that comes about after 12 years of negotiations; of any product in this legislative body that attempts, as this bill does, to effect sector reform or reform of a system that while touching every American's life, 6 days a week, at a minimum, has not been changed in any meaningful way, in more than 35 years.
So what we have tried to do, with the enormous, enormous support and patience and input of: the Government Reform Chairman; of the gentleman from Illinois, Mr. DANNY DAVIS, who started on the Postal Subcommittee, who served so honorably and so diligently with me; and over the past years, the Ranking Member of the Government Reform Committee--all of whom I hold in great esteem, and to whom I express great appreciation. I would be remiss if I also didn't note the work and commitment of the two previous Government Reform Chairmen, DAN BURTON and Bill Clinger, to this task. We have come up with a bill that embodies the input of literally hundreds of organizations that either compete against or rely upon this system we call the post office in America today. It does, as well, advance what, at least for me, was always the primary directive, and that is, that the interests of the Postal Service, under this legislation, would be better served than the status quo.
That is an opinion, by the way, that is held by corporate and non-profit mailers, competitors, postal unions and management groups, and the Administration. All of these groups, I think it is fair to say, are particularly interested in seeing this House, and ultimately the Congress, advance the issue; an issue that I hope all of my colleagues understand is one of great urgency, and one that
we continue to ignore at our extreme peril. So it is a positive moment.
The patient work on postal modernization has proceeded steadily even though, in all this time, ``postal reform'' has not once been featured on the Sunday talk shows. Balanced, nonpartisan postal reform may not be the stuff of political glory, but it is the sort of legislative work that will earn the long-term gratitude of the American mailing consumer--for I can think of no other government agency that touches the lives of all us, nearly every day, at home and at work. We've said it before and we'll say it again--that the Postal Service is the center of a nearly $900 billion industry, employing 9 million workers nationwide, and representing nearly 9 percent of our nation's gross domestic product.
The ``Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act'' affirmatively responds to all of the Administration's 5 principles for postal reform, and incorporates most of the 17 legislative recommendations made by the President's Commission on the U.S. Postal Service. The bill mandates transparency in the Service's finances, costs, and operations. The legislation creates a modern system of rate regulation, establishes fair competition rules and a powerful new regulator, addresses the Service's universal service obligation and the scope of the mail monopoly, and institutes improvements to the collective bargaining process. While the bill provides some of the pricing flexibility recommended for the Postal Service by the President's Commission, the bill also imposes controls to protect the public interest from unfair competition.
This is well-refined legislation that reflects the input and feedback from the more than three dozen hearings and nearly 125 witnesses that the Government Reform Committee and its former Postal Service Subcommittee held over the course of the last 12 years.
Make no mistake that today is indeed a day to choose. The Comptroller General of the United States has reported that the Postal Service's current business model, formulated as it was in 1970, is no longer sustainable in the 21st century. Our Postal Service is in trouble and requires reform to preserve universal service and prevent a worsening crisis.
To understand the challenges at hand, one needs simply to read the testimony the Committee received regarding the:
Serious declines in first-class volume, changes in the mail mix, increased competition from private delivery companies, sub par revenue growth, rising costs, significant financial liabilities and obligations (including roughly $60 billion in unfunded retiree health benefits alone), insufficient increases in postal productivity, and uncertainties regarding how well the Service can streamline its outdated network of facilities under existing law.
Take declining first-class mail volume as one example of a fundamental challenge to the Service's long-term viability. First-class mail volume has declined annually for the last 5 years--not since the Great Depression has the Postal Service seen declines in first-class mail. The Service's core business of first-class mail has historically been the ``bread and butter'' that makes the system operate: first-class mail generates about half of the Service's mail volume, more than half of its revenues, and covers more than two-thirds of the Service's overhead costs. About half of overhead costs are comprised of universal service costs of maintaining postal delivery and retail networks. Declining first class mail volume is causing a loss of first-class mail revenues to cover overhead costs, which will be difficult to recover from other classes of mail.
While the problems are dire, I believe the strong bipartisan bill we are presenting today--based as it is on the President's principles for legislative change--identify a path to some solutions. The Postal Service is simply too important an institution--too important to the people of this nation; too important to our economy--to await the full brunt of a crisis that is clearly upon the doorstep. Indeed, there is good reason why this is the first Administration since President Nixon's to call on Congress to modernize our Nation's postal laws. I remain hopeful that as Congress did in 1970, we too today will answer the President's charge and challenge. The Postal Service, its 750,000 dedicated employees, and the nearly 300 million American citizens who depend on universal service at affordable rates are counting on us.
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