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Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011 -- Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. BROWN of Massachusetts. Mr. President, I object in order to ask a question as well.

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Mr. BROWN of Massachusetts. I wish to ask a question, Mr. President.

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Mr. BROWN of Massachusetts. Mr. President, I concur with the Senator from Tennessee. Listen, we need to step back and move back a little bit. This is a bill of which I am a cosponsor. I work very hard. I note in the majority leader's comments he referenced Senators CARPER, LIEBERMAN, and COLLINS. But I spent an equal amount of time working on this bill and I am a cosponsor. I care very deeply about our postal workers and the security and the viability of the post office itself.

I am hopeful also that the majority leader will step back because before we left we had 2 great weeks of working on relevant issues. We had the insider trading bill, which passed 96 to 3. The leader allowed us to have a couple of days to get our Members in order, not 4 hours.

We should have the ability, when we have amendments or issues that involve our Members--they should have the right to bring them forward in any form they want, and we should have the ability to get together with them before we move on to another totally different, very important issue, such as the Violence Against Women Act, of which I am also a cosponsor. So I do not care which one we go to.

But this one is relevant. It is time sensitive. It needs to be addressed right away. I have been honored to work with Senator Carper once again and Senator Lieberman once again and Senator Collins once again, working on something that can be very important and will be very important for our country.

We are here today because the post office is clearly at a crossroads. They are in deep trouble. For more than two centuries it has played a key role in both our economy and our communities, and for decades communities large and small and citizens far and wide have come to depend on the regular and dependable mail service 6 days a week for a reasonable price.

It is plain and simple that in the past a steady volume of mail has provided that adequate revenue. But things have changed. Yet in the face of the technological changes and difficult economic conditions, first-class mail volume, as we know, has dropped by over one-quarter in the last 5 years. It is forecasted to do the same thing over the next 5 years, and the business model that proved successful for generations is now sinking the Postal Service in a pool of red ink.

As we all know, they have lost over $13 billion--billion dollars--in the last 2 years. They are almost on the verge of bankruptcy. As we know, the workforce is too big, costs are too high, and operations are being maintained that are unequal to the revenue that is actually coming in. We need to stop that right away. The number of delivery addresses increases every day, and the Postal Service's liability to its employees grows each and every day. The longer we wait, the more difficult it becomes. We are up against a deadline. We do need to work together in a bipartisan, bicameral manner.

This is not about Democrats and Republicans or Independents. It is about us as a body showing once again--trying to reestablish that trust with the American people--that, my goodness, the Senate can do things together, as we did with the crowdfunding jobs bill, as we did with the Arlington Cemetery bill, as we have done with the 3-percent withholding, and as we have done most recently with the insider trading. We can do these things. This is a no-brainer.

Everybody here agrees we need to save the post office, and we all have some very real concerns: rural concerns, city concerns, everybody has concerns. We should have the ability to have these aired, and we need to do it right now.

I would once again encourage the majority leader to step back from the path he has chosen to move on to another bill because one Member had a deep concern about what is happening in Egypt, as many of us do. Would it hurt to give him his 15 minutes and then move on? I just do not get it. It is such a disservice to the American people.

We need to put the Postal Service on the path to solvency right away--right away. The bill that has been brought here has been worked on between our four offices probably 300 or 400 hours easy. Throw in the office hours for all our staff, it is probably upwards of 1,000 hours we have been working on this bill.

This is something I speak to our constituents of, working with Congressman Lynch in Massachusetts and others, to try to make sure we can have a plan, a good base, a good starting point. We may not agree on everything. But I will tell you, we all agree we need to save the U.S. Postal Service. We need to give them the tools and the resources to do their job and be viable and competitive into the new century. We all agree on that.

So we have a little hiccup, then we are going to move on to another bill. Once again, it is just as important, and I am happy to move on to it. I am a cosponsor. But come on. We deserve to give the American people better. We should be doing better. We need to recognize and address right away the serious financial condition of the post office and provide it with the flexibility to cut costs but do so in a way that is responsible to its employees and considerate of the customers who are continuing to use their service, to grant them the ability to find ways to increase revenue and innovate without competing with private industry or giving them an unfair advantage over private industry. That is a good thing.

We also want to make sure rates do not rise abruptly. That is also a good thing. We need to ensure that the Postal Service maintains a certain standard of service so it will have business and individuals who want to continue to use that service.

It is a delicate balancing act, with little disagreement on that. There is also little disagreement that the current size in both workforce and postal operations is neither sustainable nor required for the long term. We must reduce costs and we need to have greater efficiencies, and they must be found if the Postal Service is to survive and thrive in the future. The Postal Service still plays a significant role in our economy; we all know it. There is a standard they have to hit, and we all demand it.

I fear that if we don't pass this bill, the Postal Service will continue to advocate for a more aggressive approach. We are up against a deadline. If we fail to address this, the Postmaster General will have the ability to do things that I think will not be in the best interests of everybody in this Chamber and the American citizens. We can provide different tools that he would be able to use, and we would be able to have input on that.

In Massachusetts, the Postal Service has made plans to close four main processing facilities and dozens of post offices. Yet there has been a lack of detailed explanation provided to government leaders--me and others--and employees or the surrounding communities to fully justify these changes as both necessary and prudent. We can do better and should do better.

Eliminating the overnight delivery standard or days of delivery will be transformational shifts in service. We don't know whether those are appropriate. Little is known about the combined impact these major changes will have on the postal customers or future revenues.

Mr. President, as we know, volume declines means decreased revenue for some and driving costs up and getting those costs under control are driving users away at alarming rates. These plans require a thoughtful consideration of alternative solutions, public input, and cautious implementation. We have, in fact, done that with our bill. We have sat down, as I said, for more hours than I can tell you trying to work through every issue. We have met with the players ad nauseam to try to make sure we address each and every consideration, including Members of this Chamber. There are Members on the other side who have their own ideas how to fix this. We have amendments here, also, and people want to address their issues.

Since when do we bring up a bill and do it in a day--especially something like this, which is so massive and affects so many people and an entire industry. We are going to do it in a day or 2 days. Even when we did insider trading, we did it in 4 or 5 days. This bill, I figure, is a good 6 to 8 days of hard-core debating, letting people come up with ideas for trying to rescue this important industry.

I and others in this Chamber want the postal employees to be treated fairly. We recognize their dedication and their service in this bill. We have over 100,000 employees eligible for retirement today. Rather than advocating for layoff authority, our bill provides a means for the Postal Service to increase attrition rates through buyouts and separation incentives to leave the post office voluntarily and with dignity. That is deeply important to me.

Additional provisions in the bill include long-overdue improvements to the Federal Workers' Compensation Program, a more affordable schedule of prefunding the retiree health benefit trust fund, and encouraging eligible retirees to join the Medicare rolls.

These are no doubt difficult times for the Postal Service, and some very tough choices are going to be made. So far in this legislative session, the Senate has shown that there are issues, as I said in my presentation, on which we can find bipartisan solutions. In closing, I am confident this is one of them, and I look forward to having our bill heard and we get back on track, have the leader step back and allow us to come up with an agreement of relevant amendments and do the people's business.

I am grateful for the leadership Senators LIEBERMAN, COLLINS, and CARPER have shown on this issue over the years. I look forward to working on this bill with them.

I yield the floor.

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Mr. BROWN of Massachusetts. Madam President, I agree with the statements of the Senator from Arizona about the majority leader and allowing us to actually work on relevant amendments that are important to each and every person in this Chamber, to make sure we can address those very real issues, to move not only this issue forward but to try to attempt to rescue the Post Office.

I also agree with him in his commenting on some of the deals that were cut by the Postmaster General in dealing with contracting. We actually have spoken about this many times. I asked the Postmaster General personally what was the thought process associated with entering into a contract? Did you want us to be the bad guys? What was the thought process there? Our hands are somewhat tied in dealing with some of these legislative issues.

There is nobody I respect more than the Senator who just walked out of this Chamber but I have to respectfully disagree. During our many long hours of deliberation between staff and cosponsors we wrestled with many things that were brought up in his presentation. With all due respect, I read many other articles that comment we are moving boldly to try to rescue the Post Office, taking into consideration everybody--not only the union workers but obviously the Postmaster General, the citizens--i.e., the users of the Postal Service, and everybody in this Chamber.

The impending financial crisis at the Post Office I can tell you is foremost in our minds. It was the only consideration we had, was trying to make the Post Office viable for future generations to use. That is the only consideration we had. The fact that we are here today, and I guess are not going to be able to move forward on this, is mind-boggling. But any legitimate reform of the Postal Service has to recognize we need to cut costs and streamline an organization that is too big, especially in light of the future mail volumes and the decreasing of future mail volumes. Our bill recognizes this, but where it differs from the approach of the Senator from Arizona is in our recognition of the full impact that major service changes will have on postal customers and future revenues.

The Saturday delivery service of the Post Office is one of the strongest benefits it has. When you are competing with the other entities delivering mail or delivering packages and the like, that is the leg up that the Postal Service has. We want to deliver that.

As a matter of fact, I want to address two other things. It is not the taxpayers who are paying this money. It is the ratepayers who have already paid into the system and have in fact overpaid into the Postal Service in some of their retirement issues, the retirement program that we have. We are merely giving them that money back to allow them to get their financial house in order in order to offer some buyouts, to get these 100,000 people retired so we can reduce the cost of the Postal Service.

Once we make these changes, the Senator from Arizona also referenced that it is going to take a 2-year study? No, it is not a 2-year study to see if we are going to cut down Saturday service. They want to cut it right off. If we do all these other changes, the consideration we did in a joint and bipartisan manner was to determine whether, in fact, if we had done these, do we still need to cut the Saturday service? Which, by the way, is the benefit the Postal Service has over everybody else. Are we going to contribute to that downward spiral or are we actually going to work together and give them the little bit of flexibility, to say we have done all these changes, we don't need to cut Saturday delivery?

We still do it. We may need to streamline it. We may need to do curbside instead of going to the door. We may need to do clusters, shift it in some rural areas. But we have cut retirees. We have cut, consolidated--we have done everything. That is what the 2-year study is: If it doesn't work, we will do it. But to cut off your nose to spite your face makes no sense to me.

As the Postal Regulatory Commission has pointed out time and time again, the assumptions on customer and revenue impact as a result of these proposals have been weak at best and nonexistent at worst. We need to make sure when and if we give the Postmaster General the ability to do these certain things, he is going to do them. There are no two ways about it. He needs to draw a line in the sand and, more importantly, get everybody in the same room. I cannot imagine that our postal employees, whatever union they are from, want to have the Post Office go bankrupt and go out of business. I can't imagine there are people listening who don't want to get their cards from their grandchildren, get their checks, magazines, these things they are accustomed to.

I am listening to the Senator and I am signing letters I am going to be putting in the mail. How ironic is that. I am sitting here signing letters and the Senator, for whom I have great respect, says we communicate by this cell phone--yes, but the personal touch and that feeling of how you feel I think is best expressed right here. That is why I take the time and effort to respond, not only to my constituents, to my family and friends. Call me old fashioned. I think there is something worth saving here and that is what I am working on.

Let me say, by the way, about the Senator from Connecticut, what a legacy he is going to leave. We just did the insider trading bill. Without Senator Collins' and Senator Lieberman's help that never would have come to fruition, had they not actually had the guts to move that forward. What a legacy to leave.

Then to actually have another legacy, to save the United States Post Office? They may actually name it after the Senator. I will make that effort, the Joe Lieberman Post Office. That will be great.

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Mr. BROWN of Massachusetts. And I will put it in Massachusetts. How about that?

You need to have a sense of humor around here. Trust me, sometimes you have to laugh at some of the things that happen here.

But in all seriousness, we need to take these drastic steps in order to provide for the economic viability of the Postal Service. In our bill, S. 1789, we will have a better way. The likelihood of the House bill passing is, I am understanding, quite remote. But there is a good likelihood that we can actually get this out first if the majority leader lets us move forward and get it out the door and put the pressure on the House to join with us in a bicameral way.

I want to say I was honored to be part of this effort to rescue the Post Office, as I have been honored to work on everything in our committee. We are going to miss the Senator very much. I said that before and I am not kidding. I know Senator Collins feels the same way. To do these two major pieces of legislation, I am excited to see what else we can do before the Senator leaves.

With that in mind, I will yield the floor and note I am excited to continue to work on this very important initiative. I encourage the majority leader to allow us to move forward and get this done and then we will move on to the Violence Against Women Act. As I said before, I am a cosponsor of both. As I said before, I am a cosponsor of both, so flip a coin--either way I win. It is ``heads'' on both sides. This is time sensitive. But it is until May 15, if I am not mistaken, in order for us to do it and have some control over these cuts; otherwise, you could see Draconian cuts, willy-nilly, with no input from us at all and no protection for our constituents.

I yield the floor.

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